Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (HIH1542)

StaffDr Tom Blaen - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.50
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module explores sources relating to early modern European witchcraft and magic in order to illuminate the complexities of early modern belief and practice in a context in which thousands of men, women and children were accused of and executed for the crime of conspiring with Satan and harming their neighbours. It examines the different types of sources historians use to reconstruct such beliefs and the differing approaches that have been adopted to reading these problematic texts.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Assess and understand the complexity of belief in witchcraft and magic in early modern Europe.
  • 2. Work critically with a range of cultural sources for the history of early modern Europe, with particular reference to magic and witchcraft.
  • 3. Critique early modern European historical texts.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Identify the problems of using historical sources, e.g. bias, reliability, etc., and to compare the validity of different types of source.
  • 5. Answer a question briefly and concisely.
  • 6. Present work orally, to respond to questions orally, and to think quickly of questions to ask other students.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Work Independently and within a group, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Work with others in a team and to interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group.
  • 10. Write to a very tight word-length.

Syllabus plan

The module will examine fifteenth-, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century belief in and attitudes towards witchcraft and magic. The texts to be discussed include the writings of Renaissance 'magicians', demonologists, inquisitors and sceptics, alongside contemporary plays, trial records and popular witchcraft pamphlets.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22 hour lecture: Introduction to the module
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities2010 x 2 Seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week.
Guided independent Study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing a weekly source essay and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10-15 minutes1-4, 6-7, 9Oral
Lowest mark from portfolio of 5 source commentaries500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries602000 words (500 per commentary) (15% per commentary)1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments
Essay on Sources401500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period.
1500 word essay1500 word essay1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Stuart Clark, 'Witchcraft and Magic in Early Modern Culture', in B. Ankarloo & S. Clark (eds), The Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Vol. 4 (Atholone Press, 2002)
Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Penguin, 2nd edn 1973)
Jonathan Barry et al. (eds), Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1996)
Stuart Clark (ed), Languages of Witchcraft, (Macmillan, 2002)
Marion Gibson, Reading Witchcraft (Routledge, 1999)
Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbours (Blackwell, 2nd edn 2002)
Malcolm Gaskill, Witchfinders (John Murray, 2005)
D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic, (Pennsylvania University Press, 1958 repr. 2000)
Wayne Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1982)
Stephen Wilson, The Magical Universe (Hambledon & London, 2000)
Peter Elmer (ed), The Renaissance in Europe (Yale University Press, 2000)

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