A few days ago

Can anyone help me expand this project proposal for my history day project?

I would like to study the Salem Witch Trials for my history day project.

The conflict of this topic was a community conflict. People were falsely accused of witchcraft and were killed/hung. The compromise of this topic was that the witch trials were the last of their kind in the United States and new ways of dealing with this issue were found.

The trials took place in the 1600’s. They helped stop a lot of commotion about the accusations and the witch craft issues. Most of the victims, men were rarely blamed or suspected of witch craft. Many of the people accused were also the poorer people of the town, the wealthy were never accused.

I have not been able to find many primary sources besides pictures from the time period of the salem witch trials. However, I have been able to find many secondary sources including websites and books on this topic.

I do not really know what other sources are available besides books, websites, and photos.


Top 2 Answers
A few days ago
Der Lange

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Original sources for the Salem Witchcraft Trials exist in some unusual forms – the few surviving court documents, some letters and journals from the time – AND the sermons of the Puritan preachers of the time. THOSE have been collected in books and are available online. However, as the earliest of the most famous of those preachers, Increase Mather, was born in 1639, you will have to research the ones before him. Please also note that there was also correspondence and public discussion In England about those trials.

This took place during a period when witch trials had swept across Europe. Most Americans are entirely unfamiliar with the “witchcraft terror” that consumed Europe from the latter 1500’s through the early 1700’s, nor that the last executions for witchcraft took place in the latter 1700’s. The context of America’s witchcraft trials might make an excellent part of your project.

Among other things, Americans see the witchcraft episodes as largely a strange offbeat Protestant phenomenon, motivated principally by jealousy and greed. In the European context – and remember that settlers in America were essentially Europeans, transplanted from the old world – the withcraft terror was both Catholic and Protestant. And indeed, at the time there was a great deal of “opportunism” in witchcraft accusations – people either did seek revenge or lusted after the possessions of wealthier people condemned for the crime of witchcraft. But there was a much larger context even then.

Underlying the “witchcraft” terror was an effort by all Christian sects to root out “rustication,” or pagan beliefs and rites mixed with orthodox beliefs. Many traditional herbalists of the time of course were descendants of people who had held on to old ways through the passage of centuries. Or, their approaches were at least descended from pagans.

“Rustication” had been long a problem among Catholics, particularly before the Reformation that began in the early 1500’s with Luther. Many in the old, now-cleaned-up, pantheon of Catholic saints were just adaptations of local mythical heroes, heroines and minor deities. Many bizarre (and still surviving) rituals and traditions of Catholicism (usually unique to different countries, such as Spain, Poland and Ireland) originated in “rustication” and its mixture of pagan and Christian. For a parallel, some day look up “santeria,” or the forms of religion now practiced by the native peoples of the Yucatan, Guatemala, and Peru.

At the time of the Reformation, Europe was still recovering from the devastation of the Black Death plagues of the late 1300’s and early 1400’s. The emotional effect of that devastation had introduced many, many strange interpretations of natural events, including witchcraft, and of course had spurred in many areas the spread of “rustication.” As the Church re-asserted its authority, and stamped out resurgence of heretical strains of faith as well as paganism, the faithful of the Church became more informed of the need to see and report “error” to their village curates or regional bishops. Eventually, in the course of strain and conflict caused by the Reformation, both Protestants and Catholics alike became more rigid and ready to inform on ANY dissent or even a hint of people who were not “ordinary” by the terms of their faiths. Thus the mental conditioning of societies in advance of the witchcraft terror.

Now introduce the “Age of Reason.” During one of the most horrific centuries in all human history for acts of war, bigotry, persecution, oppression, and narrow-minded hatred, the seeds of the Scientific Revolution are planted, and the entire world of thought and speculation literally explodes. This is the century of Hooke, Newton, Boyle, Leibnitz, Pascal and others. It is only a short time after Mercator, and the great mathematicians and astronomers of the 16th Century. This is the era in which Galileo Galilei is put on trial. This is the era in which the principle of the Republican form of government returns to the world, when Hobbes writes his massive defense of absolute monarchy (“Leviathan,” 1688) and Locke lays the foundation for American republican democracy. This is also the era of the greatest English-language religious mystic, John Donne, and the invention of the first (not very practical) steam engine. In this era, the first grat collision between religious authority and science occurred, and one of the outcomes was an even greater effort to declare rationalists “witches.”

Witchcraft, calculus and engineering! WHAT A WONDERFUL AND CRAZY TIME!

And most of those fascinating thinkers really did believe witchcraft was possible.

In fact, some of the stimulus for the witchcraft trials came from the budding medical profession. Physicians – as most opposed to surgeons – determinedly persecuted village “wise women” to drive the traditional herbalists out of business and let “rational scientific medicine” take its place.

So now you have a really WIDE canvas on which to paint your history day portrait. There are some FUN novels that help explain parts of this, but a few may be too grown-up for you. Please discuss some of these books with your parents and ask their help in locating relevant ideas and references that will lead you to actual hostires you can quote. Check out Eric Flint’s “1632” series of “alternate history,” Neil Stephenson’s “Baroque Cycle” of books, and Anne Rice’s “Witches” books in the range of fiction. Look up Barbara Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror” for a MASSIVE and fascinating history of the last century of the medieval era (not directly related to witchcraft, though). Look up European histories of witchcraft and the Catholic Churche’s wandering inquistors (all Jesuit) who promoted and later stamped out witchcraft trials. Look up the story of Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake for witchcraft (in the 1200’s). When your find genuine histories on this topic, GO LOOK UP THE BIBLIOGRAPHY AND REFERENCES in the back. That’s the GOLD MINE. And by the way, Google Books is going to have so MUCH for you! for free!

I hope this helps and that your project is a great success. I am a professional historian, and with your parents’ permission would love to see what you finally come up with!

Best of luck!


A few days ago
I am doing the same project, though haven’t picked the topic yet. I suggest you do an exhibit, SO much easier.

Good Luck!