Ghosts: The Evidence of Spirits


We live in a world populated by ghosts. Although the rationality which governs our lives urges us to conceal their presence, ghosts dwell throughout fictional or possible worlds in literature, in film, in art. We resist belief in ghosts and yet we feel them everywhere. Why? This Institute of Advanced Study lecture series investigated the evidence and reasons behind the ongoing existence of ghosts in our culture.

Ghosts and the Supernatural in Japanese Art, by Dr Rosina Buckland

A mountain cat dressed as a woman, who preys on travellers. A bird-like goblin that plays mischievous tricks. The ghost of a wronged lover. These are just some of the rich menagerie of deities, demons, supernatural creatures and shapeshifters that populate Japanese art and culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Dr Rosina Buckland, senior curator of East and Central Asian collections at the National Museum of Scotland, takes us inside this wondrous world. [MP3 version]

Ghosts and Dickens, by Professor Simon James

One cold, bleak, biting Christmas Eve, Ebeneezer Scrooge is confronted by ghosts, and brought face to face with his repressed memories, the errors of his present, and the possibilities of a better future to come.  For Charles Dickens, remembering is essential to our humanity, and as Scrooge discovers in A Christmas Carol there is no better time of year to remember than Christmas itself. Professor Simon James steps into the imaginative world of Dickens’s nineteenth-century novels, and follows their ghosts into the present where they haunt modern film viewers who revel in the annual Dickensian Christmas movie. [MP3 version]

‘Ghostly Language’: Wordsworth’s Ghosts and Spectral Subjectivity, by Dr Mark Sandy

The poetry of William Wordsworth is littered with ghosts and haunted sites. Although Wordsworth never claimed to have actually seen a ghost, his evocation of haunted landscapes and symbolic spectral figures taps into what he called in the Prelude “the ghostly language of the ancient earth”. Mark Sandy investigates the way the ghosts of sound and place haunt Wordsworth’s verse. [MP3 version]

This Institute of Advanced Study lecture series continues until March 2015. It is accompanied by an exhibition on spirit photography at Durham World Heritage Site.