First, Kill the Witches. Then, Celebrate Them. by Stacy Schiff [The New York Times]
Among the oldest settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and for years among the wealthiest cities in America, Salem had many claims to fame. It preferred not to count the witchcraft delusion among them; no one cared to record even where the town had hanged 19 innocents. It addressed the unpleasantness the New England way: silently. When George Washington passed through Salem in October 1789, he witnessed neither any trace of a witch panic nor of Halloween. Sometimes it seems as if the trauma of an event can be measured by how long it takes us to commemorate it, and by how thoroughly we mangle it in the process.
Cotton Mather's career is defined by two episodes of mass panic. In 1721 he found himself the target of public anger in Boston when he advocated for small pox inoculation after inoculating his own children on the advice of his West African slave, Onesimus. Three decades earlier, in 1692, he was one of the instigators and defenders of the Salem Witch Trials. For more on the latter, visit the comprehensive Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive (previously).
Bathsheba Sherman is best known as the Satanic witch who murdered her infant and then hanged herself from a tree, thus cursing her property and all its future inhabitants. The true story of a couple haunted by her demonic presence inspired the 2013 movie The Conjuring. Except how true was the story? Historian J'aime Rubio writes up The True Story of Bathsheba Sherman. [more inside]
"I would point out to you that medical explanations are modern. That Americans today want medical explanations for things that in the 19th century would have been explained by hysteria, and in the 18th century would have been explained by religious conversion experiences in the context of the Great Awakening, when people were having these types of fits, and in the 17th century by witchcraft."
The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft: A searchable database of people accused of witchcraft in Scotland between 1563 and 1736. Currently, 3,837 people have been identified, 3,212 by name. 113 cases involved fairies, 74 had a known political or property motive, 70 involved some aspect of "white magic". This is the real, and utterly fascinating, history of a hysteria that griped a country and a continent for more than a century. Religion, folk belief, fear and local relations all played out in witchhunts - and we still do not really understand why, why they started or why they ended. Projects like this one are invaluable to help us begin. (Co-developed by mefite Flitcraft)
Alan Macfarlane is a historian cum anthropologist. You can find some of his writings and videos on witchcraft, on the family and on English individualism on the site. There is also a collection of video-interviews with anthropologists such as Frith, Geerz, and Richards. In fact, there is so much to read and hear that you won't miss your television.
On The Dark Side of History - The historian Carlo Ginzburg talks about his publications and his historical method of microhistory which he pioneered. Ginzburg's most famous work is The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller--here's a review from the Journal of Peasant Studies in pdf form. Simon Schama listed it among his favorite history books, saying How can you not love a book which takes the cosmology of a heretical 16th-century miller who believes that God created the world as a kind of indeterminate cheese from which came angelic worms, and makes you believe in its plausibility ? Domenico Scandella known as Menocchio is now a hero in his ancestral village and the subject of Menocchio, a play by Elizabeth Groag. And here is a review of Ginzburg's The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. See also The Benadanti, New Age Travellers and Medieval Night-Riders and On Hereditary Italian Witchcraft and Menocchio's Books--now there's an odd lot of fellow travellers.