Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
With the CIIS independent research grant that I was awarded, I was able to spend 10 days in Germany to conduct research at the Saxony State Archives in Dresden. The goal of my research was to find documents from the later 17th to early 18th centuries that discussed German encounters or beliefs in ghosts, vampires, and other undead creatures.
The research that I conducted in Dresden was part of my preliminary work for my senior thesis paper for History that focuses on German Beliefs in Ghosts and the Undead. Through my study of history so far, I feel that the role of folklore in society has been ignored by historians. However, understanding how people viewed elements of the supernatural is essential to understanding a society as a whole and how they perceived the world around them. How European societies including the Germanic Territories interpreted the supernatural and how that realm fit into the fabric of their everyday lives is very different from how we today in the United States perceive the supernatural. For us, the supernatural and folklore has been transformed into a media sensation and something that is accepted to be unreal and fantastical. For Europeans from the middle ages to the Victorian Era, they were a very real part of everyday life, even though in the case of unfriendly sprits such as demon and poltergeists, they were an unwelcome addition to daily life. I succeeded in finding in Dresden several documents reporting on German cases of poltergeists and other spiritual hauntings.
My goal in writing my senior thesis paper on the topic of German beliefs in ghosts and other undead forms is to add to the literature that already exists on General European beliefs in these phenomena. This goal will be achieved by exploring the new cases and information that I found in Dresden on German beliefs in malevolent spirits that we today may identify as poltergeists, vampires, or demons. Through my analysis of the primary documents found in Dresden, I hope to better understand how Germans interpreted their individual experiences with what they labeled as poltergeists or ghosts and what that says about how they perceived these phenomena within the fabric of their communal beliefs and daily life. Utilizing archives to find primary source documents is one of the essential functions of a historian. For any undergraduate student who wants to pursue history in graduate school learning appropriate archival etiquette, handling of documents and use of archival databases to request primary documents are essential skills. Though it is less daunting to an undergraduate history student to get primary source documents from sources that are already printed and transcribed or translated from the original copy, they are missing the opportunity to exercise their skills in working with original prints of documents, seeing what the documents physically looks like what type of paper it is written on, whether it was a personal or official document, transcribing handwriting, and if applicable, exercising skills in reading text in a foreign language.
Through conducting my research in the State archives in Dresden Germany in preparation to write my senior thesis paper on German beliefs in the undead I felt I was able to grow as a historian, as a student of the German language, and culturally as a German citizen.