The Salem Witch Trials, the case that would become America’s most famous witchcraft episode, drew on a long history of witchcraft belief, accusation, and prosecution in Europe and the New World. In order to understand Salem and the phenomenon of witchcraft more generally, this course explores the long context of European witchcraft belief from medieval theology through The Wizard of Oz and Ursula the Sea Witch.
Witchcraft raises questions about human society and belief, about fear and responses to fear, and about the cultural norms that encourage the deadly persecution of particular individuals. It also requires consideration of the patterns of gendered expectations that put one gender (usually female, but not always, as we shall see) at heightened risk for witchcraft accusations. Witchcraft has produced an enormous array of modern reactions, ranging from historical and anthropological analyses, to satanic and neo-pagan feminist revivals of witchcraft practice, to popular, sensationalized novels and movies. Most recently, with the recrudescence of torture as a mechanism of eliciting truth from American society’s most feared foes, witchcraft provides a productive lens through which to view contemporary beliefs, values, and practices.
1. Attendance at all lectures and discussion sections is required, and participation is strongly encouraged. Short assignments may be added in section or in lecture. (25%).
2. Two exams during the term: one in-class exam and one take-home exam. (20% each).
3. Attendance at UM performance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (any performance, March 31st-April 10th), and a 2-3 page response paper (10%).
4. Final Exam in the format of YOUR CHOICE: Take-home OR in-class final exam. Take-home exam will be distributed in class on the last day of classes and will be due at the same time as the scheduled in-class final (25%).