Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Salem Possessed by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum~★★★★

Authors: Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum
Title: Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft
Release Date: February 1974
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Genre: Non-Fiction

Book Cover: "The stark immediacy of what happened in 1692 has obscured the complex web of human passion which had been growing for more than a generation before building toward the climatic witch trials. Salem Possessed explores the lives of the men and women who helped spin that web and who in the end found themselves entangled in it." 

Taryn's Review: This book may be a bit dated, but it still offers a lot on the social history front. It looked at Salem, which was actually split into two factions: Salem Town and Salem Village. The authors explored the prominent families, the accused and their locations within Salem, and the disputes between both the Town and Village. The book reviewed the conflicts regarding religion and the hiring of a pastor for Salem Village and the resentment regarding the church.

Boyer and Nissenbaum explained that they came across a wealth of documents while setting up a class on the topic and wanted to bring the sources to light. The last historian to use the documents had used them in 1867! The authors used a lot of really awesome sources, which even made reading the footnotes fun!

This book was not, however, focused on the actual trials of the accused, nor did it really explain the social origin of witchcraft. But if Salem has captured your interest, this might be a book you'd enjoy. Again, it's heavy on the social history, but even so, I found it very readable and we had a good time engaging with it in class.

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