Salem Witch Trials

What caused the Salem witch trials? In the readings, you will have seen several theories: genuine religious beliefs, interpersonal and financial disputes among the people living in Salem Town and Salem Village, medical disorders, ergot poisoning, Puritan beliefs about women, violent battles between the colonists and Native Americans, etc.

Write 2 pages on which of these explanations you believe is the most persuasive. Cite sources from the course to support your argument. In 1692, several young girls became mysteriously ill, appearing to suffer from seizures and claiming to see ghostly specters pinching and prodding them. Soon, the girls began to accuse neighbors of using witchcraft to harm them. Over the next year, nearly 200 people in Salem would be accused of witch craft, and 19 would be executed for the crime. 

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In this unit, you will see primary and secondary sources related to the Salem witch trials. If these terms are not familiar, read this guide and watch this video on primary and secondary sources and how to approach them.

Begin with the link labeled “Tituba” below. Tituba was an enslaved Caribbean woman working in the household of Salem’s resident preacher and was among the first to be accused of witchcraft.

After this, you may read in any order you like. The “overview” document will give you a general outline of the events at Salem and some of the theories that have been put forward about what happened and why. As you read each document on Perusall (clicking the links will open a new window that will take you to our course’s Perusall site), you will see comments from me that will add context to the readings and provide links to additional readings that may interest you.

As you read, keep in mind that you will write a 2-page paper at the end of the unit on why you think the Salem witch trials happened. Throughout the readings, you will see explanations ranging from religion to ergot poisoning to financial disputes between the townspeople, and so on. It may be helpful to annotate the readings on Perusall whenever you encounter a new explanation. You may then refer back to these annotations as you are writing your paper.

Once you have turned in your paper to the eLearn dropbox linked below, we will schedule a Zoom call to discuss the unit and your perspectives.

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