Witchcraft and Gender in the Early Modern World
From the 15th century through the 18th century, social tensions erupted in Europe and the colonies in the witch craze, a period when intense cultural concern over witchcraft was expressed through religious treatises and sermons, popular literature like pamphlets and broadsides, legal accusations, trials, and, in some cases, executions. Although scholars argue vehemently about the total number of people executed during the witch-hunts, their importance in understanding early modern beliefs and responses to social tensions is clear. In this online class, we will explore historians' understandings of the causes underlying this cultural phenomenon. With special attention to gender, social position,and religious belief, we will join academic debates about the causes of these persecutions. We will also read some primary sources from the medieval through the early modern periods, including trial transcripts, sermons, and pamphlets. Were women the main target of witchcraft accusations and executions, and if so, was misogyny their most important cause? What role did sexual norms and beliefs have in the way that accusations were framed? Were there different patterns of accusation and executions across time and region, and if so, what social and cultural factors might explain them?