All posts by Romany Reagan

Romany Reagan received her PhD from Royal Holloway, University of London in performing heritage in 2018. Her practice-based research project ‘Abney Rambles’ is comprised of four audio walks that she researched, wrote, and recorded from 2014 to 2017 within the space of Abney Park cemetery, located in the north London community of Stoke Newington. Researching the layers of heritage that make up Abney Park led to a study of the occult literary heritage of Stoke Newington, ‘earth mystery’ psychogeography, and folklore. Since completion of her PhD, Reagan has expanded her folklore research scope to encompass legends and lore from the British Isles which she is documenting on her blog, Blackthorn & Stone. Publications: ‘Crossing Paths/Different Worlds in Abney Park Cemetery’, Ways to Wander (Bridport: Triarchy Press) 2015; '"Thoughts on Mourning" Audio Walk Exploring Mourning Heritage and Death Positivity in a Victorian Garden Cemetery', Thanatos Journal, Volume 6, 2017, p50-82; 'The Gendered Garden: Sexual Transgression of Women Walking Alone in Cemeteries', Death & the Maiden, 2017, Website: Twitter/Instagram: @msromany

Hidden history of women healers in the eradication of smallpox

When we think of the eradication of the smallpox disease today, we think of the groundbreaking vaccine developed by Dr Jenner — but where did the original knowledge of smallpox inoculation (the knowledge on which the eventual vaccine was based) come from? We actually owe our thanks to the ancient practices kept alive by women healers in Greece, Turkey, China, India, and Africa. Basically, everywhere in the world *except* Western Europe…

What does the English Civil War have to do with feminist medicine?

In this video, I explain how the chaos of the English Civil War led to relaxed print censorship, increased literacy, and a boom time for female-focused medical books — the origin of the printed family herbal book. 

Why is the stereotypical image we have of a witch always a woman?

In this short history, I pinpoint the exact year in mediaeval Europe when the idea of the inherent character of the Satanic witch as female began — and also explain how the blame for this misogynist bull really comes down to just a few travelling preachers. 

Hidden Histories of Jewish & Muslim Medical Women in Mediaeval Europe

In testimony at her trial in 1410, the surgeon Perretta Petone claimed that ‘many women’ like her were practising all over Paris. While she may have been exaggerating for rhetorical effect, Perretta was certainly right that she was not alone as a female in medical practice. From the famous Surgeon Hersende, who accompanies St Louis on Crusade in 1250 and who would later marry a Parisian apothecary, to various Jewish eye doctors in 15th-century Frankfurt, to phlebotomists at the French Dominican nunnery of Longchamp, to Muslim midwives at the royal court of Navarre—whether they were surgeons or optometrists, barbers or herbalists or simply ‘healers’ (metgessa, medica, miresse, or arztzatin), women were almost always among the range of practitioners who offered their services in the western European medical marketplace from the 12th through 15th centuries. (Green 2008 [b] 120)

A great diversity of women practised some form of medicine throughout Europe in the Middle Ages (500-1500). Medical historians have identified a wide variety of female practitioners—from various regions, faiths, and social classes—engaged in general healing as well as specialised branches of medicine, including surgery, barber-surgery, and apothecary. Moreover, these female practitioners had the freedom and legal right to practise their healing arts. These rights were not taken away in systematic broad measures until the 14th century.  

The open existence of officially sanctioned women healers came sputtering to a halt with the widespread establishment of European universities and the accompanying degrees and licences necessary to practise medicine. A licence to practise medicine as a physician could only be obtained after completing a university education—and women were banned from attending university so… that should have been that.

Continue reading Hidden Histories of Jewish & Muslim Medical Women in Mediaeval Europe

Spirit Photography in the Museum

Last October 2021, we gathered some friends, historians, a museum curator, and fellow spectrophiles to run an experiment at the Museum of the Home in London. We wanted to see if we could recreate spirit photographs using historically accurate Victorian methods.

This post contains three parts. First, a short history of spirit photography. Second, an interview with our photographer Selina Mayer. And finally, our Spirit Photography Album with the outcomes of the experiment.

***If you want to skip straight to our Spirit Photography Album first, scroll to the bottom of this post.***

Continue reading Spirit Photography in the Museum

‘Women’s Weeds’ Research Journal — VIDEO: Exploitation of 17th & 18th Century Folk Healers by the Professionalised Medical Community

A potted history of the exploitation of folk healers in Europe, as well as in conquered lands (the Americas, West Indies), in the 17th & 18th century by the professionalised medical community—with a special focus on how this impacted female folk healers.

Haunted Bloomsbury Audio Walk: Spiritualism & Ghost Stories in WC1

Happy 1st of September! You know what this means?? Officially only one month until 🎃🦇💜 !OCTOBER! 💜🦇🎃 London Month of the Dead have a fabulous calendar of spooky delights for you!

Check out my #spiritualism audio walk through 👻#HauntedBloomsbury👻 — it even comes with a glossy guidebook! 🔮

Click here for more info:

Haunted Bloomsbury Audio Walk: Spiritualism & Ghost Stories in WC1

HAUNTED BLOOMSBURY – Spiritualism and Ghost Stories in WC1
An Audio Guided Tour and Map Book with Dr Romany Reagan

Take a journey through darker Bloomsbury as your tour guide Dr Romany Reagan leads you through the occult pathways and hidden histories of this birthplace of British Spiritualism.

The Victorians were fascinated by a wide range of phenomena that might loosely be termed the ‘occult’. In their search for meaning in their mortality during an increasingly secularised age, interest in Spirituality and connections ‘beyond the veil’ touched almost every aspect of Victorian life, from scientific study to literature. Tracing Spiritualism’s lines of origin, we’re driven through these occult pathways into the heart of Bloomsbury. Join your tour guide, Dr Romany Reagan, for an evening stalk of gothic intrigues and Victorian ghosts.

– An A5 full colour map and guide book
– Each book comes with a download or streaming code so that you can take your tour at any time alone or with a friend

‘Women’s Weeds’ Research Journal — VIDEO: Introduction to what it’s all about (+ bonus gorgeously Creepy Fort)

Here is a little video I’ve made explaining a bit of what my project is about. I’m now almost two months into my research journey! I will be presenting my preliminary findings at the Bridges 2022 conference, ‘Bridges Between Disciplines: Gender in STEM and Social Sciences’, at the Universitat Politécnica de València – Campus of Gandía. I’m excited to share what I have learned so far!

The blog post I reference in the video is ‘The Language of Flowers: Breaking into the Boys Club of Botany & the Flowery Dress as a Feminist Act’

‘Women’s Weeds’ Research Journal — Spotlight: Beatrix Potter Takes on the Botanical Boys Club

“I fancy he may be something of a misogynist.” 
— Beatrix Potter, in her journal December 1896, about Mr Thiselton-Dyer Director, Kew

Several years before Miss Helen Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) became the beloved children’s author whom we all treasure, creating the world of Peter Rabbit and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, she had much smaller lifeforms on her mind: fungi. And there was a man (or rather, several men) standing in her way to mycorrhizal greatness. One of whom was no less of a personage than William Turner Thiselton-Dyer, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

It all began with her illustrations. She was a very talented artist, in both sketch and watercolour, but alongside this ability she also had the gift of very close observation. Beatrix sketched and painted a variety of fungi that she found in the Lake District in England and in Scotland. As her documentation became more detailed, she began to be fascinated by how fungi reproduced. By the autumn and winter of 1895, when she was 29 years old, she was spending an increasing amount of time drawing fungi under a microscope. She became convinced that she could germinate some spores herself. She wanted to study the environment in which they germinated, discover whether or not conditions were the same for each species, what the spawn of each consisted of, and whether or not she could reproduce it more than once. This is where her hobby graduated from observation to experimentation. 

Beatrix Potter
Continue reading ‘Women’s Weeds’ Research Journal — Spotlight: Beatrix Potter Takes on the Botanical Boys Club

‘Women’s Weeds’ Research Journal — Fun Fact: Well-behaved women seldom make history

Lead image ‘Well-Behaved Women’ by Barry D Bulsara
(Instagram: @barrydbulsara)
Available to buy:

Ah, the archive… That reliquary of truth and unbiased historical fact.

This week’s ‘fun fact’ is one of those research moments when another researcher points out a solution to your problem that actually should have been obvious from the beginning: if you’re looking for hidden histories, do not look at ‘official’ records, such as those kept by licensing guilds or at published works, nope. Look at court documents. Fines, punishments, incarcerations—executions. That is where you are going to find the true stories of what historical people—who were not White Christian Men (WCM)—were actually up to.

Continue reading ‘Women’s Weeds’ Research Journal — Fun Fact: Well-behaved women seldom make history