Photo of Dr Laura Sangha

Dr Laura Sangha

Senior Lecturer


01392 723371

I am a historian of religious cultures in early modern England, investigating belief and practice during the 'long' Reformation c.1450-1700. My research relates to processes of religious change in their social and political contexts. I am particularly interested in early modern life-writing, beliefs associated with/theological perspectives on the supernatural (principally angels and ghosts), patterns of disenchantment and re-enchantment, the development of natural and mechanical philosophy and the emergence of the new thinking, and the interface between official and 'popular' expectations and mentalities. My first monograph, Angels and Belief in England 1480-1700 was published in 2012, and with Jonathan Willis I recently edited Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources. My new research is on early modern life-writing, and is currently focused around the archive of the pious antiquarian and diarist Ralph Thoresby, 1658-1725.

I design and teach modules on Tudor England, supernatural belief and the 'Long Reformation', c.1560-1700, and I also contribute to modules on the medieval and early modern periods, and on historical theory and skills. I am a member of  Exeter's Centre for Early Modern Studies. Beyond university, I am one of four co-contributors to the many-headed monster, a collaborative research blog on all things early modern, and I tweet @_drsang: find out more about my work there.

Research interests

  • Social history of theology: relationship between 'official' and 'popular' belief
  • Early modern life-writing, broadly defined
  • The English Reformation and processes of religious change
  • Supernatural beliefs relating to angels and ghosts, enchantment, secularisation
  • C16th & C17th century natural and mechanical philosophy: interface between 'science' and religion
  • Devotional piety, forms of public/private worship, devotional reading and writing

My current research is on early modern life-writing, and particularly the diary and correspondence of Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725). Thoresby merits attention because he combined a deeply pious background with ‘scientific’ activities and a wide network of acquaintances. His life allows the investigation of the collation and dissemination of both religious and 'scientific' knowledge amongst Thoresby's geographical and intellectual community. My interest in Thoresby grows out of my broader interest in religious cultures, life-writing, and processes and models of enchantment and disenchantment across time.

Forthcoming and Recent Research Papers

'Haunted Communities: Ghost Beliefs in Early Modern England', University of Cardiff Seminar, 22 February 2018.

‘Spirits of health and goblins damn’d’: English ghosts c. 1500-1700', History Group: The Walronds, Cullumpton, 7 February 2018.

‘Spirits of health and goblins damn’d’: English ghosts c. 1500-1700', Torquay Museum Society Lecture, 31 October 2017.

'The many-headed monster': blogging for and from below?', Creative Histories, University of Bristol, 19-21 July 2017.

'Haunted Communities: Ghost Beliefs in Early Modern England', Keynote speaker at the Early Modern Cluster Summer Symposium, University of Bristol, 4 July 2017.

‘Approaching the Supernatural Through Life-Writing c.1660-1720’, Approaching Inner Lives: Thinking, Feeling, Believing 1300-1900, University of East Anglia, 28 March 2017.

'‘“Take care that nothing be printed”: the public and private lives of supernatural narratives in later Stuart England’, Early Modern British and Irish History Seminar, University of Cambridge, 23 November 2016.

'Life-writing and Religious Identities in post-Reformation England', Reformation Studies Colloquium, Newcastle, 14-16 September 2016.

Research supervision

I welcome enquiries from students working on asepcts of early modern English religious cultures and the social history of theology. This would include the following:

  • Social history of theology: relationship between 'official' and 'popular' belief
  • The English Reformation and processes of religious change
  • Devotional piety, forms of public/private worship, reading and writing
  • Life-writing
  • Supernatural beliefs associated with angels and ghosts, enchantment, secularisation
  • C16th & C17th century natural and mechanical philosophy: interface between 'science' and religion

Research students

I am currently co-supervising the following doctoral students:

Andrew Binding, 'Living at Home: People, Spaces, and the Changing Domestic Environment in the Early Modern South West England.'

Michelle Webb, 'As fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her': facial disfigurement in sixteenth and seventeenth century England'.

External impact and engagement

I welcome opportunities to talk to new and non-specialist audiences about my research. I am always happy to give talks to local history groups, and at museums and libraries - for instance in the past I have spoken at Torquay museum, to volunteers at Wells Cathedral, to the Walronds History Group in Cullumpton, to Historical Association branches, at teacher training days in the south-west, to sixth form students, and even (via Skype) to students at a High School in New Jersey.

Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century topics that I have covered in the past vary widely, and include belief about angels, ghosts, Exeter's memorial to religous martyrs, print culture, riot and rebellions, puritan culture, and the English reformation and its repercussions in the seventeenth century. If you are interested in hearing more about my research, or about life in early modern England more generally, drop me a line.

I also try to reach new audiences through digital media, particularly through the blog that I co-author, the many-headed monster. On the blog I write about my research, teaching, the discipline and all aspects of academic life, and I also write guest posts, including for #FolkloreThursday. In the past I acted as a consultant to the 'Goat and Monkey' theatre company, undertaking research for the production 'A Little Neck': an immersive performance about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, staged at Hampton Court Palace, September 2009, and I am also a #twitterstorian @_drsang.



As an early modern historian of England, I design and teach modules on a period of study that is similar to our own, yet which in many ways is also strange and bizarre. Not quite modern, but certainly not medieval, the early modern is often seen as a transitional stage, a time of both continuity and change. My modules on supernatural beliefs, Tudor England and early modern societies encourage students to delve into this extraordinary world to learn about and try to understand earlier societies, and to uncover just what made people tick. Early modern sources are rich and diverse, and in my teaching I make the most of this variety, drawing on books, pamphlets, ballads, diaries, letters, law codes, court proceedings, state papers, plays, paintings, sculpture, woodcuts, music, furniture, maps and much more to bring these subjects to life.


At the heart of my teaching are three principles. First, I want students to think critically about why we study history, and what it’s place might be in human society. Why do people write histories, how do they choose what to write about, and why is history written and presented in certain ways at certain times? Is history powerful and perhaps even dangerous or irrelevant? Secondly, I want students to critically engage with how historians have studied history – both in the past and present. What sources have historians used, and how have they interpreted them? What have they argued about the past and are their arguments convincing in light of the evidence? In the process of trying to answer these questions, I hope that my students will become better historians, reflecting on what sources they should use, and how they should interpret them. As part of this process, I encourage students to think about and reflect on how they research and read, as well as how they write and analyse. Finally, I believe that history is exciting, engaging and entertaining, and I hope that my modules are too. I use music, podcasts, online resources, primary material, forums, and a dedicated twitter feed @_drsang to reveal history in all it’s glory, inviting students to engage with me and with the discipline of history outside of the classroom, and setting it free from the page.

Modules taught



I studied for my PhD under the supervision of Professor Peter Marshall at the University of Warwick, and received my doctorate in 2009. I was subsequently awarded a six month Early Career Fellowship from the Institute of Advanced Studies at Warwick, held in conjunction with teaching duties. I became a Teaching Fellow at the University of Exeter in September 2010, and was appointed to a Lectureship in British History 1500-1700 in July 2012.