School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies


Photo of Dr Karl Bell

Dr Karl Bell

  • Qualifications: BA (Hons) in Modern History (Anglia Ruskin University), MA in Modern History (Birkbeck College, University of London), PhD in History (University of East Anglia), FHEA, FRHS
  • Role Title: Senior Lecturer in History
  • Address: Milldam, Burnaby Road, Portsmouth PO1 3AS
  • Telephone: 023 9284 2274
  • Email:
  • Department: School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies
  • Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


I joined the University of Portsmouth in 2007, having previously taught at the University of East Anglia. My research explores the history of the fantastical imagination. I take this to include magical and supernatural beliefs, witchcraft, occult and pseudo-scientific practices, prophecies, legends and folklore, monsters and teratology, the Gothic, and (proto-) science-fiction tropes in the modern period (anything post-1700).  I am happy to supervise PhDs on any of these topics. My first monograph, The Magical Imagination: Magic and Modernity in Urban England, 1780-1914 was shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society’s 2012 Whitfield Prize. My second book, The Legend of Spring-heeled Jack: Victorian Urban Folklore and Popular Cultures won the Katharine Briggs Award in 2013.

I am a keen advocate of public engagement and frequently seek to develop collaborations with creative writers and other artistic practitioners. Previous activities include the crowdsourcing of local ghost stories and the co-editing of Dark City, a collection of short stories and poems produced by local writers. In 2016 I led the creation of Portsmouth DarkFest, a new cultural festival that drew its inspiration from my Supernatural Cities project (see below). This was developed in collaboration with the Portsmouth Writers Hub, the 1000 Plateaus art collective and other artistic communities within the city.  

Teaching Responsibilities

I teach across the undergraduate programme, including core level 5 units such as Empires and Identities 1750-1914, and The Masses and Modernity 1750-1914, options such as In Darkest England: Culture, Conflict and the City, and my level 6 Special Subject, Magic and Modernity 1800-1920. Additionally, I supervise third-year dissertations in the social and cultural history of the nineteenth century.

At postgraduate level I am the History department’s course liaison tutor for the MRes in Humanities and Social Science and regularly supervise MRes research projects. I am currently first supervisor for three PhD students, with projects ranging from the eighteenth-century Royal Navy and public health reform to monstrous folklore and  nineteenth-century popular protest.  


Research Clusters

  • Social and Cultural History

Discipline Areas

  • History
  • Cultural Studies

Current Research Projects

  • I am Principal Investigator on ‘Lost Voices: Spiritualist Communities and Wartime Afterlives on the Home Front, 1914-1919’, an AHRC-funded project exploring spiritualism and the emotional history of the home front in Britain during and immediately after the First World War.
  • I am director of the Supernatural Cities research project ( Based at the University of Portsmouth, this interdisciplinary group explores how urban geographies are culturally constructed, negotiated and understood through the supernatural, Gothic, uncanny, spectral and weird narratives. Through the development of a network of urban historians, architects, cultural geographers, literary and film scholars, and artistic practitioners, this project engages with issues relating to the spectral histories of urban geographies, the nature of urban mentalities, the role of communal narratives, and the historical, sociological, and psychological function of mental landscapes of feeling, memory and imagination. The project co-hosts an annual conference.
  • Conducting research into proto-science fiction ideas in British culture between c.1750-1900. Rather than the familiar focus on the genre’s key literary figures this book will examine broader cultural expressions of what we now recognise as science fictional tropes linked to imagined times and spaces, technology and mechanization, and visions of the future. Linked to this, I have developing interests in steampunk and Neo-Victorian reimagining of the past.
  • I am a founder member of the University of Portsmouth’s Port Towns, Urban Cultures research project ( and remain actively involved in its wide range of activities, including its interest in synthesising historical data and digital technologies, and the ongoing development of its international networks.

Research profile

Explore my research profile, publications and activities on the Portsmouth Research Portal

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