23.7.11

STUDYING SALEM

Richard Godbeer. The Salem Witch Hunt: A Brief History With Documents. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011 (The Bedford Series in History and Culture).

This book is part of a series aimed at introducing (American) undergradute history students to working with primary documents and learning to interpret them as professional historians do. It should also serve a similar purpose for those using witchcraft as a study in UK A level history or religious studies, and be useful to others wishing to obtain a first hand perception of such outbreaks.

After a short introduction the book provides transcriptions, with modernised spelling and notes on obsolete language, of ninety-five, mainly short documents. These cover the rise, spread, decline and aftermath of the epidemic, including a selection of the allegations made against six of the accused, which provide a variety of the 'spectral evidence'.
Much of this material will look very unfamiliar to many of today's students, and suggests how foreign a country the past can be. It would be useful for anyone conducting a course using this material to look at some modern parallels such as the satanic abuse and alien abduction panics. The role of subjective experiences such as isolated sleep paralysis in the generation of the panic could also be mentioned. -- Peter Rogerson


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