- Series: The Social Origins of Witchcraft
- Paperback: 231 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (February 1974)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674785320
- ISBN-13: 978-0674785267
- ASIN: 0674785266
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 46 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft Reprint Edition
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Provides an admirable illustration of the general rule that, in Old and New England alike, much of the best sociological history of the twentieth century has only been made possible by the antiquarian and genealogical interests of the nineteenth… This sensitive, intelligent, and well-written book will certainly revive interest in the terrible happenings at Salem. (Keith Thomas New York Review of Books)
The authors' whole approach to the Salem disaster is canny, rewarding, and sure to fascinate readers interested in that aberrant affair. (The Atlantic)
This is an 'inner history' of Salem Village that aims to raise the events of 1692 from melodrama to tragedy… It is a large achievement. This book is progressive history at its best, with brilliant insights, well-organized evidence, maps, and footnotes at the bottom of the page. (Cedric B. Cowing American Historical Review)
This short book is a solid contribution to the understanding of the 1692 witch trials. The authors use impressively rich demographic detail to support the thesis that the witch trials are best explained as symptoms of typical social tensions in provincial towns at the time. According to Boyer and Nissenbaum, Salem villagers played roles determined by economic, geographic, and status interests. (Richard Ekman Canadian Historical Review)
An important, imaginative book that brings new insights to the study of the 1692 witchcraft outbreak in Massachusetts. Building on Charles Upham's Salem Witchcraft (1867), Boyer and Nissenbaum explore decades of community tension and conflict in order to explain why Salem was the focus of this episode. The authors reveal a complex set of relationships between persons allied with the growing mercantile interests of Salem Town and those linked to the subsistence-based economy of outlying Salem Village. (Carol Karlsen Journal of Women in Culture and Society)
A provocative book. Drawing upon an impressive range of unpublished local sources, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum provide a challenging new interpretation of the outbreak of witchcraft in Salem Village. They argue that previous historians erroneously divorced the tragic events of 1692 from the long-term development of the village and therefore failed to realize that the witch trials were simply one particularly violent chapter in a series of local controversies dating back to the 1660s. In their reconstruction of the socio-economic conditions that contributed to the intense factionalism in Salem Village, Boyer and Nissenbaum have made a major contribution to the social history of colonial New England… [They] have provided us with a first-rate discussion of factionalism in a seventeenth-century New England community. Their handling of economic, familial, and spatial relationships within Salem Village is both sophisticated and imaginative. (T. H. Breen William and Mary Quarterly)
An illuminating and imaginative interpretation…of the social and moral state of Salem village in 1692. A sensitive, intelligent, and well-written book. (New York Review of Books)
A large achievement. This book is progressive history at its very best, with brilliant insights. (American Historical Review)
Salem Possessed is a provocative book. Drawing upon an impressive range of unpublished local sources, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum provide a challenging new interpretation of the outbreak of witchcraft in Salem Village… A major contribution to the social history of colonial New England… Sophisticated and imaginative. (William and Many Quarterly)
About the Author
Paul Boyer was Merle Curti Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
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Like the lead reviewer, I do not buy into the authors' sociological conclusions regarding the origins of the Salem Witch trials. But that does not mean this is not a very valuable book for those who study this subject. Since it does end with a socio-economic explanation of events, it marshalls and displays an impressive amount of evidence regarding the state of Salem Village at the time of the outbreak. You are unlikely to find this information elsewhere, and it is just as likely to support an alternative explanation as the one to which the authors lead you.
For example, early in the book, the authors make the connection between the events in Salem and the events, 42 years later, a few dozen miles to the west, in Northampton, Massachusetts, during what was called the First or "Little" Great Awakening in the parish of Jonathan Edwards. This was the source for my alternate theory of the events in Salem. This means that one should read this book with an open heart, get what ideas are good, and criticize the ideas which may be too much of a stretch.
If the authors attend too much to any one point, it seems to be the motives of certain individuals. My reading of the events is that it was an incident fuelled not by the evil or ignorance of one person, like Thomas de' Torquemada's role in the Spanish Inquisition, but in the sense of the times, fed by the way in which the incident was sparked by the Amerindian slave Tituba and her vision of many witches signing the Devil's book.