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Witch-Hunting in European Societies (HIST20080)

Undergraduate level 2Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelUndergraduate Level 2
Subject codeHIST20080
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

Why were c. 50,000 people executed for witchcraft in late medieval and early modern Europe? In this subject we will test different historical models for explaining the shocking rise and ultimate decline of witchcraft as a crime with dramatic social repercussions. Along the way we will encounter accused female and male witches of all ages and all social levels, as well as inquisitors, judges, torturers, accusers and victims. Throughout the subject, we will explore the ways that historians might recover the fears and beliefs of individuals and communities in the past. We will assess the social, political, religious, legal, environmental and cultural underpinnings of witchcraft panics in locations including Germany, France, England, Scotland, Spain and Italy. We will encounter European anxieties about non-European diabolical magic, and the notorious New England Salem witch trials of 1692 in North America. Sources for this subject will include trial records, letters and treatises, visual images, and objects imbued with magical powers. Weekly seminars will be based around primary sources as well as scholarship by leading historians of the witch-hunts and of Europe during the period c. 1350–c. 1700, and will also include a witch trial scenario activity.

Intended learning outcomes

Students that successfully complete this subject should be able to:

  • Discern and evaluate key characteristics of important case studies concerning the European witch-hunts as well as the relevant historical backgrounds against which they unfolded
  • Understand and critically reflect upon debates by historians about the rise and decline of witch-hunting as a phenomenon c. 1350–c. 1700
  • Locate and analyse primary and secondary sources to construct and evaluate historical arguments
  • Develop skills of critical thinking and clear communication through seminar participation and the preparation of work for assessment

Last updated: 21 September 2019