This module will focus on witchcraft beliefs and witch-hunts (the legal prosecutions of individuals for the crime of witchcraft) in Europe and New England between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Beliefs about witches, witchcraft, and the powers of the devil at both elite and popular levels will be examined, and set in the wider context of the religious/magical world-view of the period. The motivations behind the making of witchcraft accusations and confessions will be analysed, and we will explore whether there was any such thing as a 'stereotypical' witch, as well as why some people confessed to being witches relatively freely. A key focus will be on the differences in the legal treatment of the crime of witchcraft in different geographic locations, and in the elite debates about the validity of hunting witches. Finally, representations of the witch in art and literature will be examined in the context of the historical phenomenon of the witch-hunts. The emphasis will be on comparison - between the patterns of prosecutions for witchcraft in different areas, and between the many and varied historiographical approaches which have been used in the attempt to explain why there were witch-hunts, and why most, but by no means all, prosecuted witches were women. We will use a range of primary sources, principally demonological texts and treatises, trial pamphlets and transcripts, and woodcut and other imagery.
- Module Supervisor: Alison Rowlands