In Haunt

Haunted Caribbean plantations and wider American hauntings are just some of the fascinating fields University of Manchester academic Dr Natalie Zacek encounters in her work. A lecturer in English and American Studies, she will be sharing her insight as one of the panellists at the Manchester ‘Following Hauntology: twilight streets and dark horizons’ event on the 27th March, presented by HAUNT Manchester and Not Quite Light. This will be followed by Not Quite Light Weekend 2019.

Captivated by the concept of ghosts and hauntings since she was a child, Natalie grew up and studied in America (at both Cornell University and Johns Hopkins University), though has been working in Manchester for a number of years.

Her work often considers the United States, the Caribbean and historical perspectives upon them; and she has taught a number of modules on slavery, abolition, and the American Civil War. This expanded to leading a workshop at Manchester Central Library, considering the connections between transatlantic slavery and capitalism, whilst she also has spoken at Manchester Histories Festival on the subject of black history, as well as developing a programme of events ‘Bittersweet: Slavery and Abolition in Manchester’ in conjunction with The Portico Library.

Natalie Zacek

‘American Hauntings’ is not only another of her research interests, but a module she teaches to final-year undergraduates at Manchester. Considering that she is also planning to develop a research project on haunted Caribbean plantations, HAUNT Manchester decided to talk to Natalie to find out more…

Hello Natalie. Why do you think an event discussing hauntology is important and what does it mean to you to be involved?

“It's a topic in which a lot of people are really interested - I'm thinking of frequent discussions in the Folk Horror Revival Facebook community, and in the magazine Fortean Times, for example - but which may seem intimidating to people outside academia, as it's associated with the obscure prose of scholars such as Derrida. Discussing it in the context of an event that is open to the wider public will help break down the barriers between academic and popular discourse and encourage the sharing of ideas.”

You are a Senior Lecturer in English and American Studies at The University of Manchester. Have you always be interested in the ‘haunted’ aspect of history, or was there a specific event/area of research which caused you to further this interest?

“I've been interested in ‘haunted history’ since I was a kid - much of my interest in visiting historic sites was in the hope of seeing a ghost, or, failing that, getting a ‘period rush’ in which I felt as if I had gained an understanding of the past which went beyond facts and objects. It may stem from the fact that, while I'm not convinced that there's an afterlife, I don't like the idea that people are born, live their lives, then die and wink entirely out of existence. The vestiges of the past - emotional and physical - always call to me.”

You are planning  to develop a research project on haunted Caribbean plantations. Why does this in particular interest you and why do you think it is important to explore it?

“Because the US is still - for now - a white majority nation, and many white Americans remain deeply uncomfortable with the history of slavery, historic plantation sites are usually interpreted with the aim of avoiding offending anyone, even if that means distorting the truth. Slavery is a ghost that the US still hides in its attic, and tries to ignore its rattling chains.

“While plenty of Afro-Caribbean people feel anger and horror at the history of slavery in their nations, and see how it has continued to affect them today, they are more comfortable both with discussing it openly and honestly and engaging with it in a more playful way.

“For example, many Afro-Jamaicans are fascinated by the legend of the ‘White Witch of Rose Hall’, an allegedly extremely sadistic female slaveholder, but see her as an enjoyably scary/campy pop culture figure. Whereas in the US I think she would be depicted very flatly either as a figure of monstrous evil (like Charles Manson) or as someone who has been falsely accused of her misdeeds.”

I assume how ghosts and hauntings are received varies massively across cultures. Can you tell us about perhaps some of the most striking differences between how hauntings are perceived here for example, compared to the Caribbean?

“Just as with the figure of the Devil in many Afro-diasporic cultures, the Jamaican "duppy" (ghost) is not necessarily synonymous with evil. A duppy is the spirit of a deceased person; it may be filled with malevolence and a desire for revenge, but it can also come to you to offer comfort and enlightenment.

Why do you think it is significant that this hauntology event is being held in Manchester? Have you been inspired by Manchester’s own haunted or mysterious histories, for example?

“Other than the legends of John Dee at the Cathedral and Chetham's, Manchester doesn't have a lot of folklore or ghost stories from before the Industrial Revolution, but Karl Bell's wonderful scholarship has shown that, when people moved from rural areas to cities, they didn't immediately jettison all their folk beliefs.

“19th-century Manchester was a ‘shock city’ in both positive and negative ways, and some people responded to the pace of change through supernatural beliefs. Until about 1850, Droylsden's local government employed a ‘boggart seer’ whose job was to ensure that these creatures did not harm residents or disrupt the community. And the darkness and rain around here, combined with so many pseudo-Gothic buildings, can give Manchester a haunted air.”

By Emily Oldfield




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