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Witch Hunts in the Early Modern World

Witch Hunts in the Early Modern World

Alison Rowlands

ISBN: 978-1-405-12626-7

Jan 2015, Wiley-Blackwell

256 pages

Select type: Paperback

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The persecution of individuals for the alleged crime of witchcraft during the early modern period in Europe and North America has excited and continues to excite vigorous scholarly debate, particularly around the key questions of: Who was accused of witchcraft, by whom, and why? Were women the main targets of persecution as witches? Why did ferocious episodes of persecution break out in certain parts of the early modern world, while other areas were left untouched by the ‘witchcraze’? And what explains the fact that witch hunts in Europe and North America were an early modern phenomenon, starting in the 15th and ending in the 18th century, with the most intense episodes of persecution occurring in the 16th and 17th centuries? Historians have drawn on a range of sources (trial records, pamphlets, imagery and demonological texts) and methodological approaches to answer these questions, borrowing in particular from the theories of anthropology, psychoanalysis, literary analysis, and feminism in order to help them to understand why thousands of people were executed for what by modern standards was an impossible crime. The aim of this book is to introduce students to the most important interpretational issues around the theme of witch trials, showing how, why and with what effect important scholarly interventions have been made in the debates. The main focus is the process of persecution, although the beliefs about witchcraft that could (but did not inevitably) motivate persecution will also be discussed.