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HIST 0290 Witches in Early Modern Europe

Early modern Europe saw some 40,000 people die because their neighbours or the authorities believed them to be consorts of the Devil or capable of harnessing unearthly powers to harm others. Belief in widespread witchcraft thus coexisted with the rationalities of the Renaissance and the devotion of the Reformations. This provides students with a fascinating and rewarding angle from which to dissect early modern societies, their elites and peoples, mindsets and emotions, as well as the powerful religious, social and economic tensions at work within them.  Guided by a remarkably rich set of modern scholarly responses, and insights from anthropological, literary, psychoanalytical, economic and gender studies, students can explore the huge variety and wealth of surviving contemporary sources from trial accounts through learned tracts and sermons to visual arts and plays.

Sample Topics

  • The Devil and his Witches
  • Witches and Evil-doing
  • Gender and Witchcraft
  • Possession and Exorcism
  • Cunning Folk and Healing
  • Witches and Anthropologists
  • Witches and Psychologists
  • Regional Studies


Introductory Reading

  • Gibson, M.,  Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550-1750. London: Continuum, 2003
  • Clark, S., Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997
  • Briggs, R., Witches & Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft Oxford: Blackwells, 2nd edn, 2002
  • Roper, L. Oedipus and the Devil: Witchcraft, Sexuality, and Religion in Early Modern Europe. London: Routledge, 1994
  • Oldridge, D., The Witchcraft Reader. London: Routledge, 2nd edn, 2008
  • Cameron, E., Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, & Religion 1250-1750. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997
  • Levack, B.P. (ed.), The Witchcraft Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 2004
You never know what you'll find
One afternoon, I left St. Michael's Hall with the desire for a cookie and thought I'd pick one up before heading back to the Bodleian. The shop around...
Gabrielle Linnell, Spring Semester 2012, Wellesley College