Witches And Neighbours In England 1450 – 1850

This course will explore the rise and fall in the belief in witches in England from 1450 to 1850. Alongside this, we will try to explain why people believed in magic and how it related to their everyday lives in their communities. We will therefore investigate how magic related to Christianity, and to a sense of neighbourliness or enmity, as well as identifying different types of magic, both harmful and helpful. England (and Scotland) experienced intermittent witch hunts, and we will assess what drove these and why they did not increase in size in the manner of some of the European witch panics. Occasionally we will look into a related phenomenon from abroad, in order to compare and contrast a key theme. We will also spend time working out who was sceptical of witches and magic, and how this changed from being a fringe belief to a mainstream one. This is an interdisciplinary course that will blend social and cultural history, the history of ideas, and the history of the book. We will assess lots of primary sources, including printed texts and images.

Who is this course for

No prior knowledge is necessary, but a good grasp of English is essential. Students who wish to do some background reading before the course starts could consider:
Malcolm Gaskill, Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction (2010)
Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England (1971)
Lawrence Normand and Gareth Roberts, Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland: James VI's Demonolgy and the North Berwick Witches (2000)
Michael Hunter, The Decline of Magic: Britain in the Enlightenment (2020)

What does this course cover

This course is structured around eleven key themes and case studies. These could include:

' Magic, religion and popular culture on the eve of the Reformation
' Starting the European witch hunts: the Malleus Maleficarum, the devil and the witches' sabbat
' The stereotype of the witch: word and image from 1450 to 1850
' The St Osyth witch trial of 1582
' Scottish witchcraft: James VI's Daemonologie (1597)
' The Civil War: Matthew Hopkins
' The Restoration poltergeist: the Drummer of Tedworth
' The Salem witch trials
' Scepticism: Reginald Scot and John Wagstaffe
' Witchcraft, magic and modernity: from Jane Wenham to Victorian seances

By the end of this course you should be able to

' Give an account of the main reasons why people believed in magic and witchcraft in England during the period studied
' Contribute to discussions of how those beliefs related to community life
' Discuss the origins of scepticism towards witches
' Discuss why England did not experience any huge witch hunts
' Contribute to discussions of primary sources from the period studied, both texts and images

What will it be like

This is an interactive course. Each week we will have essential reading to read before meeting. This will usually comprise an article or chapter from a book, and a text or image from the period being studied. The tutor will set questions for you to think about whilst you are reading. We will then meet to talk about the reading and the set questions, and to decide what they tell us about the subject we are studying that week. Different points of view will be examined, with students encouraged to make up their own minds as to which they find the most convincing. Each student's progress will be assessed by their contributions to seminars, and by any one-to-one conversations with the tutor. This is not a stressful process.

What else do you need to buy or do

You do not need to buy anything to study this course. You are expected to read and to prepare for seminars in your own time. Internet access will greatly help.

What this course could lead to

You could enrol on other courses at the Mary Ward Centre, to study history, history of art, philosophy or the history of ideas. See the Centre's website for details

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Got a Question about this Course?

Contact The Departmental Administrator.

Why choose Mary Ward?

Mary Ward Centre is the adult education centre with a difference. We provide a wide range of subjects for people at all levels and run courses during the day, evening and weekends to suit your timetable. You can learn face to face at one of our centres (Bloomsbury or Waterloo) or take an online course

Get inspired and enjoy excellent teaching in an environment where each individual’s learning experience is valued. That’s what makes Mary Ward Centre ‘the friendly place to learn.’