CFP: Ghost Light II: Monstrosities

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A NiCHE Series
Proposal Deadline: 6 September 2023
Draft Deadline: 6 October 2023
Series Publication: Late October — November 2023

“[…] the deeds of the beast invited the attention and nervous projections of a society poised on the threshold of revolutionary transformations […] [anxieties that] distilled the curiosities, fears, and hopes of a wide cross section of the French population, creating an atmosphere in which many — the elite and the lowly, the learned and the un-learned — could accept, and even expect, the presence of a monster.” 1

Jay M. Smith, Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast, 2011

“[W]hat do we mean when we talk about ‘monsters’?” Natalie Lawrence asked in 2015.2

In the case of La Bête de Gévaudan — a massive, mammalian monster of uncertain zoologic classification whose legacy of bloody lupine-like rampage in 18th century France has kept folklorists busy since the nineteenth century — historians often “mean” that what we view as monstrous in Euro and Euro-American folklore usually embodies a few shared qualities. As Jay M. Smith’s 2011 Monster of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast explains, La Bête and its associated mythologies offer a case study in “the construction of a powerful legend,” which is very much in agreement with Lawrence’s 2015 approach to historic monsters.3 “Monsters,” Lawrence explains, in transgressing attempts at categorisation, “helped to determine [historical] boundaries,” an argument echoed in other areas of animal and other-than-human history (Coleman 2004; Rutherford 2022).4 Whether La Bête is approached or encountered as “the work of a number of wolves,” the “imaginative work” of the “individuals and historical forces responsible for the creation of the monsters”, or both, as Smith explores, the Beast’s place in history agrees with Lawrence’s view of monsters.5 Indeed, both encounter the same monsters in different skins: Lawrence’s are those which “are not self-evident,” but “created to serve” of the systems, anxieties, and fears driving history to which, as Smith puts it, “‘the Beast’ gave form.”6  Smith’s 2011 book is consistent with his goal to “restore that beast — and the forces that made it — to the historical record of France’s ancien régime,” but in so doing reveals another common meaning to the pursuit of so-called ‘monstrous’ histories, and the need for further answers to Lawrence’s questions and those like it.7  

More-than-human folklore is not so easily contained even where our attempts to do so are successful in their own part. Folkloric monsters return, time and time again, whether in nightmares of Anthropocene, or in dreams which “come through stone walls,” they certainly can — and do — emerge from the crypt of history, however tidily prepared, and indeed, “laugh at locksmiths.”8 The scope of what we have to learn from them as environmental historians has expanded tremendously in recent scholarship. Monsters, and the monstrous, broadly conceived, have proven allies to feminist and Queer scholars, among them, Bernadette Marie Calafell and Barbara Creed, whose interpretations of the monstrous challenge binaried gender roles, or thrive within explorations of the monstrous as a vector to explore the experience of Queer people of Colour within (and outside of) the academy.9 The monster, then, is an other-than-human being perhaps only reliably contained by the abstract: at once Kin and enemy, balancing force and a disruptor of expectation, capable of “light[ing] up dark rooms, or darken[ing] light ones” or breaking through their walls.10 When environmental historians encounter the monstrous — from conceptions of the invasive to historic, climatological folkloristics — we are often building that folklore ourselves where we acknowledge them in the context of our own scholarly trails.

What do environmental historians mean, then, when we talk about the monstrous?

NiCHE seeks contributions to Ghost Light II: Monstrosities which illuminate the relationships between other-than-human beings, folklore, and the environmental humanities. Prospective contributors are encouraged to propose ideas which align with these themes, propose their own topic adjacent to the Series’ original CFP, or respond to any of the following prompts:

How do environmental historians encounter the monstrous in the stories we tell? How have human relationships with the monstrous, broadly conceived, changed over time — and what environmental factors dictated these changes?

If our notions of so-called “monstrosity” are themselves constructions, how can approaching “monstrous” beings benefit our understanding of environmental history? How can history benefit them?

How does problematising historical notions of “monstrosity” issue a challenge — or offer a place of respite — to those whose work engages the stories of both human and other-than-human beings and communities?

At our own climatological hour, so often cast as a “transformation,” how are the feelings of ‘anxiety, curiosity, fear, and hope’ we are learning to expect reflected in the faces of monsters new and old?

We welcome proposals for blog posts of 800-1200 words, as well as proposals for topics better suited to multimodal formats (photo essays, video essays, audio content, and visual or multimedia art). There are no limits to historical scope. We are interested in narratives including, but not limited to:

  • Plant, animal, insect, fungal histories and folklorics
  • Weather and atmospheric events; climate change
  • Conceptions of the monstrous in the built environment (including agricultural systems, military and naval histories, and energy history)
  • Gender studies, Queer, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous histories, Queer Ecology, and work considering themes through the lens of Race and the Environment
  • The concept of the “afterlife” in the study of taxidermied, or otherwise preserved specimens (plant, animal, fungal, insect, etc.)
  • The histories of more-than-human monsters, ghosts, supernatural figures
  • Video game study, film study, or ecocritical literary review
  • Narratives problematising the so-called “invasive” in any context
  • Extractive colonialism and acts of extraction (or insertion)

Contributors might consider any of these questions alongside the themes in this CFP, or the CFP from last year’s Ghost Light, or are free to propose their own. Please submit proposals of 200-250 words with a short bio of 100-150 words to series editor Caroline Abbott at abbott.caroline.ce [at] by 6 September 2023. Contributors are welcome to reach out with questions or to talk through ideas. Contributors will be notified of acceptance by 7 September, 2023. Drafts are requested by or before 6 October for series publication in late October and early November.

An honorarium is available to NiCHE contributors who work without equitable, adequate access to institutional support. If you could benefit from an honorarium, please indicate this in your email!

Editors note: the Series “Ghost Light” and its original posts were published in October and November 2022. Series editor Caroline C.E. Abbott is now accepting proposals for the series’ second installment, Ghost Light II: Monstrosities, and will continue to accept posts on a rolling basis after the submission deadline stipulated above closes.

We look forward to hearing from you!

1 Jay M. Smith quote here extracted from the 2011 book “Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast,” page 5.
2 In a 2015 blog post, then-PhD candidate Natalie Lawrence posed this question alongside a discussion on the links between the monstrous and the history of human morality.
3 Smith’s 2011 Monsters of the Gévaudan argues: “[t]he beast emerges as a sign of, and a powerful stimulant for the conceptual winnowing that necessarily informed the construction of ‘modern’ consciousness and the definition of a ‘traditional’ past.” Page 5.
4 Natalie Lawrence’s quoted argument from her 2015 blog post considering the monstrous reflect similar arguments made by both Jon T. Coleman in his 2004 book Vicious: Wolves and Men in America and by Stephanie Rutherford in her 2022 book Villain, Vermin, Icon, Kin: Wolves and the Making of Canada in their considerations of the role of vilified lupine (and indeed, animal) figures in the establishment of biopolitical boundaries and so, the construction of nation.
5 The quoted passages in this sentence are taken from Jay M. Smith’s 2011 “Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast,” page 5 and refer to thoughts shared throughout the introduction of that work.
6 Lawrence’s 2015 post argues that monsters “are not self-evident,” but “created to serve” human systems. Smith’s Monsters of the Gévaudan discusses the systems, anxieties, and fears as driving factors to the Beast’s creation “to which ‘the Beast’ gave form.” Page 5.
7 Smith’s is successful at the purpose he outlined in his 2011 text: “In more ways than one, I seek to restore that beast — and the forces that made it — to the historical record of France’s ancien régime.” Page 6.
8 Quotes in this passage refer to Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 “Carmilla,” which can be found on Project Gutenberg for free here.
9 Calafell, B. M. (2012). Monstrous Femininity: Constructions of Women of Color in the Academy. Journal of Communication Inquiry36(2), 111–130. and Creed, Barbara (1993). The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge are the works to which this passage chiefly refers.
10 Le Fanu, “Carmilla,” 1872. Project Gutenberg.
Cover image: François Antoine abat la Bête du Gévaudan. Estampe coloriée, BnF, recueil Magné de Marolles, vers 1765. (Francis Antoine slaughters the Beast of Gévaudan. Coloured print from the Magné de Marolles Collection c. 1785 (translated by author). Wikimedia Commons: Public Domain.
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Caroline Abbott

Caroline is a recent graduate of Glasgow University (M.Res. 2019) with interests in the intersections of other-than-human histories, print, gender and environment in the long nineteenth century. She is managed by a small gray rescue Manx and a formerly-feral house panther.

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