Witches, Werewolves, and the Walking Dead
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 ask why early modern Europeans believed in the supernatural, and what caused these beliefs to change and ultimately recede over time. For example, how did religious beliefs about demonic activity frame the occurrence of natural disasters? What do spells and shape-shifting reveal about Europeans’ conceptions of the universe? Each lecture will explore the ideas that undergirded a particular manifestation of the supernatural. As we ask why Europeans hunted witches, for example, we will also examine their judicial systems and their views on women. Through ghost stories, we will explore the ways in which people understood the relationship between the living and the dead. Broadly, this course thus explores transformations in European society, religion, and ideas between 1500 and 1800.
Most of our course readings will be primary sources: firsthand accounts of demonic possession, or the records of witchcraft trials, for example. These will be the basis for discussion sections each week. Written work will include short papers (in response to assigned prompts) and two exams (midterm and final).