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HISTORY 3HI3 Advanced Historical Inquiry

Academic Year: Winter 2016

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Megan Armstrong

Email: marmstr@mcmaster.ca

Office: Chester New Hall 626

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 24141


Office Hours: Wednesday, 1:30 - 2:30 p.m.

Course Objectives:

3HI3 Advanced Historical Inquiry Topic: The European Witch Craze


The European Witch Craze (1480-1700) remains one of the most fascinating and disturbing episodes in European history. This is in part because it confronts us with a historical reality that seems on the surface quite different from that found in the West today. Students are often puzzled, for example, by the intensity and widespread nature of belief in witchcraft at that time, and in the use of judicial torture on accused witnesses. Over the last several decades, scholars have found the Witch Craze useful for rethinking long held assumptions about the intellectual, political and social character of the Early Modern Period. The Witch Craze after all coincided with the Renaissance, a time of intense intellectual ferment that is often linked to fundamental changes in scientific knowledge. The predominance of women among the accused also points to a gendered historical culture that remained persistently unfavourable, and even hostile, to women.  Still other scholars find witch trials appearing in locales struck by religious division in the wake of the Reformation, and/or economic and social dislocation.

It is precisely because of its popularity as a field of historical investigation that the Witch Craze is well suited for a course focused upon the examination of changing historical approaches. Over the following ten weeks, students will be introduced to the study of the Witch craze from many different perspectives.

Course Expectations:

Advanced Historical Inquiry has emerged as an initiative in the Department of History after extensive discussions about what we as historians feel students need to know about the practice and habits of the field. 3HI3 is intended to engage students in an exploration of both the philosophical and scientific aspects of the study of human societies while encouraging the further development of a critical eye to sources and narrations of historical events in texts and on the web.

Students will develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the historical craft; acquire a more nuanced reading of secondary sources, with an eye to their place within existing fields’ literature, themes, etc.; compare and contrast competing perspectives within specific historiographic debates; search for and identify potential research questions that emerge from their readings and discussions, and hone written and oral communication skills.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts:

The Hammer of the Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum (Cambridge, 2009).
Gerhild Scholz Williams, Defining Dominion
Brian Levack, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe (Longman, 1987)
Peter Morton ed. The Trial of Tempel Anneke  (Broadview Press, 2006).

*all other materials are available as pdfs on Avenue to Learn

Method of Assessment:


25%     participation
40%     two short essays (900 words) (2 x 20%)
35%     historiographical essay based upon Anneke (1500 words)

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Submission of Course Work

Students are advised to retain a photocopy of each essay they submit, and to keep all research notes for their essays. History essays will be marked for clarity of writing, grammar, and organization, in addition to content and analysis. Work should be submitted on time. Permission to submit a late assignment is at the discretion of the instructor and, except in exceptional instances, a penalty will be imposed for late submission without prior discussion with me (3% per day).

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:


Mon Jan 11: Week 1: Introduction

Mon Jan 18: The Hammer of the Witches: Malleus Maleficarum
Ques:  This primary source was one of the most popular and influential manuals on the legal prosecution of witchcraft. What does it tell us about the core elements of belief in witchcraft during the early modern period? What do we learn about the method of legal prosecution? Who were the authors and why is their identity important for interpreting the document?

The Hammer of the Witches, Part I (esp pp. 159-199); Part III (pp. 477-530)

Brian Levack, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe, intro

Mon Jan 25: The Witch Hunts
What does Levack tell us about the chronology and geography of witch hunting in Europe?

Brian Levack, The Witch Hunt In Early Modern Europe, ch.1, 6,7, 8

Mon Feb 1 : Social History
Ques:  What are the objectives of “social history” according to these authors? What do they examine? What sources do they use and why?

Richard Horsley, “Who were the witches? The Social Roles of the Accused in the European Witch trials” Journal of Interdisciplinary history 9 (1979): 689-715.

Sawyer, “Strangely Handled in All her Lyms: Witchcraft and Healing in Jacobean England” Journal of Social History 22 (1989): 461-485.

Mon Feb 8: The Law, the State and Witchcraft
Ques: What does the legal perspective bring to the study of witchcraft? What can the legal study of witchcraft tell us about early modern justice?

Levack, ch.3
Alfred Soman, “The Parlement of Paris and the Great Witch Hunt,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 9 (1978): 30-44.
Diana Paton, “Witchcraft, Poison, law, and Atlantic Slavery,” The William and Mary Quarterly 69 (2012): 235-264.


Mon Feb 22: Witchcraft, Medicine and the Natural World
For these historians, why is the “natural world” one part of interpreting the witch hunts? What do we learn about the relationship between society and the natural world?

Wolfgang Behringer, “Weather, Hunger and Fear: Origins of the European Witch Hunts in Climate, Society and Mentality,” German History 13 (1995): 1-27.
Blécourt, W., “Witch Doctors, Soothsayers and Priests. On Cunning Folk in European
Historiography and Tradition,” Social History, 19 (1994): 285–303.
First short paper due in class: on this week’s readings

Mon Feb 29: Intellectual history
Ques: Why do these historians emphasize the “rational” nature of witchcraft?

R Kiekefer, “The specific rationality of medieval witchcraft,” American Historical Review 99 (1994): 813-836.
Stuart Clarke, “Inversion, Misrule, and the Meaning of Witchcraft,” Past and Present

Mon March 7: Gender
Ques: How has the focus on gender shaped scholarship on the Witchcraze?

Anne Barstow, “On Studying Witchcraft as Women’s History,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 4(1988): 7-19.
R. Monter, “Toads and Eucharists: The Male Witches of Normandy, 1564-1660” French Historical Studies 20 (1997): 563-595.
Tamar Herzig, “Flies, Heretics, and the Gendering of Witchcraft,” Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft 5 (2010): 51-80.
*Second  short paper due: on gender

Mon March 14:  Literature and History
Ques: How would you describe the theoretical and/or methodological approach(es) of Williams to the study of witch belief? How do we know that she is trained as a literary scholar?

Gerhild Scholz Williams, Defining Dominion

Mon Mar 21:  Psychoanalysis
What is “psychoanalysis” and how do these historians use this scientific field to interpret the Early Modern Witch Hunts?

Charles Zika, “Cannibalism and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe: Reading the Visual Images,” The History Workshop Journal 44 (1997): 77-105.
Lyndal Roper, “Withcraft and Fantasy,” History Workshop

Mon Mar 28:  Essay help session

Mon April 4:  No class.  Submit final paper on this day