Supernatural Europe, 1500-1800
Today, witchcraft and vampires are the stuff of hit movies and bestselling novels. Five centuries ago, however, few Europeans questioned that magic was real. This course reconstructs that enchanted world. Throughout the semester, we will explore the reasons why early modern Europeans believed in the forces of witches, demons, comets, and more, and what caused these beliefs to change and ultimately recede over time. For example, how did beliefs about demonic activity frame the interpretation of natural disasters? What do rituals surrounding birth and death reveal about the hopes and fears of ordinary people? Why did Europeans begin to hunt witches in this period, and why did they stop? As we pursue these questions, we will also gain a broader understanding of European society, culture, religion, and science between 1500 and 1800. In order to understand the reasons behind the witch-hunt, for example, we will examine their judicial systems and their views on women. At the same time, this course introduces students to the skills through which historians analyze sources and draw conclusions about the past. In assignments and class discussions based on primary sources, such as first-hand accounts of possession and the records generated by witchcraft trials, we will learn how to practice those skills ourselves. Written work will include short papers (in response to assigned prompts) and two exams (midterm and final).