Exorcising the Past: The Historiography of Witchcraft Cases in England and New England


I have been fascinated by witchcraft trials since I was a child. This fascination is partly rooted in a childhood that was filled with my Grandma’s stories of our ancestor who was hung as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials.[1] Today, I am more drawn to understanding the array of interpretations historians have developed to explain the phenomenon of witchcraft accusations. It is believed that the last legal execution of an alleged witch occurred in 1782 at Glarus, Switzerland.[2] Astonishingly, even before the last execution took place skepticism surrounding witch hunts developed among educated European elites. In an attempt to rationalize witch hunts, these early interpretations enlisted “monocausal” explanations blaming the trials on the alleged bigotry and ignorance of the clergy and judges. Essential to these explanations was the assumption that witch hunts occurred because of a pre-enlightened past in which irrationality and a lack of science enabled persecution. This Crucible- like interpretation is still the most widespread understanding of witchcraft trials in popular culture. [3]

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Book Review: Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings (1998)

Book Review: Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1998).

In Atlantic Crossings, Daniel Rodgers discusses American social politics from the Gilded Age through the New Deal. In the process, he uncovers the international roots of social reforms such as city planning, workplace regulation, rural cooperatives, municipal transportation, and public housing. For Rodgers, ideas shaped progressive social politics while individuals carried those ideas back in forth across the Atlantic. Rodgers examines an array of sources, including doctoral dissertations, magazine and newspaper articles, books, and public documents, to describe the tapestry that was trans-Atlantic world of social politics in the Progressive Era.[1] Ultimately, Rodgers seeks to unearth a distinct trans-Atlantic period in America’s past.[2]

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