History 231 Reading Guide

Discussion: Witchcraft in a Contentious Society:  The late seventeenth century

  • Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman:  Witchcraft in Colonial New England (1987; revised 1998).


  • Previously, what did you understand about the causes of witchcraft accusations in general and the witchcraft hysteria in Salem in particular?  How does Karlsen's interpretation fit into or revise that understanding?
  • From what theoretical perspectives is she writing?   What questions do those perspectives raise?  What evidence does she offer to support her argument and how does she analyze it?
  • To what extent were witchcraft accusations and trials a community phenomenon?  What role did the accusations play in the social, economic, and religious life of the community?  How did witchcraft accusations (and possessions) reflect those changes?
  • Why was witchcraft such a gendered phenomenon?
  • What does the witchcraft hysteria in Salem suggest about changes in late seventeenth-century society?  Why Salem?  Why 1692?
  • How was the witchcraft phenomenon in Salem (and New England) resolved after 1692-1693?  Why?