Centre for European and International Studies Research

Supernatural Cities: Narrated Geographies and Spectral Histories

Supernatural Cities is an interdisciplinary network of humanities and social science scholars of urban environments and the supernatural. We aim to encourage the conversation between historians, cultural geographers, folklorists, social psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and literary scholars as they explore the representation of urban heterotopias, otherness, haunting, estranging, the uncanny, enchantment, affective geographies, communal memory and the urban fantastical. We will share calls for papers, work on collaborative funding bids and promote relevant research.

Alongside this conversation, we also plan to present lectures, seminars, workshops and publications.

Narrated geographies and spectral histories tend to survive as collective, communal constructions. With that in mind, this project also seeks to reach beyond academia to engage with both creative practitioners and a range of local community groups, with the aim of prompting imaginative interactions with and altering understandings of our urban spaces and places.

Visit our project blog: supernaturalcities.co.uk

Supernatural Cities

Seeking your stories

This project is currently looking for ghost stories and other supernatural experiences from Portsmouth, past and present. The information will be used to produce a freely available map of our supernatural city. (Some of the project's research findings are already on our sailortown app: https://sailortown.co.uk/). If you have a story that belongs on our map, please share it with us:

Share your story

Project Members

Lead researcher: Karl Bell

My research interests focus on the relationship between the fantastical imagination and the urban environment. In my previous publications I have explored urban magical beliefs and practices, environmentally-inflected supernatural narratives and popular religion, millenarianism, Victorian urban legends, nineteenth-century ghost lore, and the construction of haunted urban landscapes. I am particularly interested in the way these ideas and mentalities were used to navigate the historical experience of urban modernisation, especially as a means of subversion, adaptation and appropriation. 

Karen Fielder

Karen is a lecturer in the Portsmouth School of Architecture. Read more.

Alison Habens

Alison is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing in the School of Media and Performing Arts. Read more.

Alex Pavey

Alex is Research Assistant to the Supernatural Cities project in CEISR. Read more.

Eilis Phillips

Eilis is a PhD History student and part-time tutor on the undergraduate History course. She is currently researching monstrosity and popular radicalism in nineteenth-century Britain.

Discussion networks

The Supernatural Cities group operates a discussion network through JISCMail. Researchers with interests in themes of the urban supernatural may request membership at http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/SUPERNATURALCITIES

Supernatural Cities runs a discussion group on Facebook. For more information, and to request to join, please see https://www.facebook.com/groups/1726535687598649/. There is also a Supernatural Cities events page at https://www.facebook.com/imaginetheurban/.

Conferences, Seminars, CFPs and Events of Interest

Annual Supernatural Cities conference: The Urban Weird

6-7th April 2018, University of Hertfordshire. Co-hosted with the Open Graves, Open Minds project at the University of Hertfordshire. Call for papers available at http://www.opengravesopenminds.com/urban-weird-2018/call-for-papers/

The Haunted Landscape 2017: Folklore, Ghosts and Witchcraft

18th November, Conway Hall, London. https://conwayhall.org.uk/event/haunted-landscape-2017/

Victorian Spaces: Real and Imagined

26-29 May 2018, University of Regina, Canada. https://www.navsa.org/2017/09/17/cfp-victorian-spaces-real-and-imagined-11152017-526-292018/

Linked Sites

  • Mapping Spectral Traces - An established example of the constructive work that can be achieved when academics and creative practitioners join forces.
  • Leeds Psychogeography Group - Although not necessarily focussing on the supernatural, this site provides a good example of current attempts to explore how the urban environment influences the emotions, memories and behaviours of city dwellers.
  • The Paranormal Database - This demonstrates a good attempt to outline a national picture of supernatural phenomena.
  • Monstrous Geographies - An interesting, interdisciplinary engagement with fantastical notions of the environment.
  • The Gothic Imagination - One of the best sites around for keeping abreast of developments in the academic study of gothic cultures.
  • The Alchemical Landscape - Based at the University of Cambridge, this ongoing research project explores the creative, aesthetic and political implications of the 'geographical turn'.


Lost Voices

Karl Bell and Eilís Phillips are involved in an AHRC-funded collaborative, communal research project called 'Lost Voices'. This explores the role of Spiritualism on the Home Front during and immediately after the First World War. See https://everydaylivesinwar.herts.ac.uk/?page_id=2594 and also https://everydaylivesinwar.herts.ac.uk/?p=3385

Darkfest 2017

DarkFest - The second year of this creative celebration of the supernatural, the weird, and urban noir. This cultural festival was developed in collaboration between academics from the Supernatural Cities project, the Portsmouth Writers Hub, and artists from 1000 Plateaus. Once again, more information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/portsmouthdarkfest/.

Freethinking, Radio 3

Karl Bell was recently interviewed about ghosts in Old Portsmouth for Radio 3's Freethinking programme (5th October) - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05j6m2m

Dark City – Edited by Karl Bell and Stephen Pryde-Jarman

The Supernatural Cities project has been working with a group of talented local writers, many of whom are members of the Portsmouth Writers Hub, to produce an anthology of supernatural, weird, crime and horror tales set in Portsmouth. This book was launched during Portsmouth DarkFest 2016 as a celebration of local creativity.

Dark City

Further information

To learn more, please contact:

Dr Karl Bell, Reader in Cultural History (karl.bell@port.ac.uk)
School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, United Kingdom

We have a Supernatural Cities Facebook group - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1726535687598649/