The Witchcraze in Europe and its Colonies c.1300-1800 (HIH2181A)

StaffProfessor Jonathan Barry - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

You will need effective communication and analytical skills, oral and written, to complete many of your modules and in a job after you graduate.  This module aims to help you develop your skills in researching, interpreting, and analysing both primary and secondary material, and in reporting on your work.  It provides you with an opportunity to explore an area of history in more depth, and helps you to develop the depth of understanding you will require to study more specialised areas of history.  It will also give you an opportunity to work in a team on a group presentation.

By the end of this module, you will be able to discuss how and why the fear of witchcraft so deeply affected European societies during the late medieval and especially the early modern period, and when/why these fears abated.  You will be able to analyse the different types of explanation offered for this, and how they draw upon insights and theories from other disciplines. You will be able to compare and contrast the experiences of different European nations, communities and individuals and use this knowledge to consider whether there actually was a unified ‘witchcraze’ across Europe, or whether this is an unhelpful retrospective creation. You will also be familiar with a range of primary sources, both written and visual, including demonologies, theological texts, personal accounts, literary texts, news books, legal texts, and printed images.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Be aware of the various developments in the history of European witchcraft.
  • 2. Make a close evaluation of the key developments and debates in the history of European witchcraft.
  • 3. Evaluate the main themes in the subject and to collate information upon, and evaluate in greater detail, those aspects of the module discussed in seminar and especially those topics selected by students for their coursework.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Analyse the key developments in the historiography of European witchcraft, and hence of crime, gender, religion, culture, and science.
  • 5. Collate data from a range of sources, both primary and secondary.
  • 6. Interpret primary sources.
  • 7. Trace long-term as well as short-term historical developments.
  • 8. Recognise and deploy historical terminology correctly.
  • 9. Assess different approaches to historical writing in areas of controversy.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 10. Work both independently and in a group, including participating in oral seminar discussions.
  • 11. Identify a topic, select, comprehend, and organise primary and secondary materials on that topic with little guidance.
  • 12. Produce to a deadline and in examination conditions a coherent argument.

Syllabus plan

The first half of this module will consider the origins and development of demonology and the prosecution of witchcraft in Europe, and the patterns, both temporal and spatial, of its nature and intensity. The second half will focus on models of explanation, exploring the changing historiography of the subject, and how historians have drawn on models from such areas as anthropology, criminology, feminism, psychology and literary theory to explain the apparently irrational fears, not just of ordinary people, but of intellectuals and political elites, and how witchcraft might have both reflected and shaped the course of European history. These themes will be set out in the lectures and explored, through primary sources, in the seminars, with group presentations on the distinctive experience of different regions/countries of Europe and its colonies during this period. 

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 hoursLectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities22 hoursSeminars; these will be led by the tutor. You will need to prepare for each seminar and present on a given topic in groups of 4 on 4 occasions
Guided Independent Study22 hoursWeb-based activities located on ELE – preparation for seminars and presentations
Guided Independent Study 234 hoursReading and preparation for seminars and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan x 1500 words1-12Verbal and written

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
Essay303,000 Words1-12Written and verbal
Group Presentation2025 Minutes1-11Written and verbal
Exam502 Questions in 2 Hours1-12Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay3,000 Words1-12Referral/deferral period
Group Presentation1,500 script as for individual presentation, equivalent to 10 minutes1-11Referral/deferral period
Exam2 Questions in 2 Hours1-12Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment of the essay and exam are exactly the same, a 3,000 words essay (worth 30%) and a 2 hours exam (worth 50%). The group presentation will be replaced by a written script equivalent to 10 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Bailey, Michael. Magic and Superstition in Europe (2007)

Barry, Jonathan, and Owen Davies (eds), Palgrave Advances inWitchcraft Historiography (Basingstoke, 2007)

Behringer, Wolfgang, Witches and Witch-Hunts: a Global History (Cambridge, 2004)

Clark, Stuart. Thinking with Demons: the Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford, 1997)

Gaskill, Malcolm. Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2010)

Levack, Brian. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, 3rd edn(London, 2005)

Levack, Brian (ed), The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft and Magic in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (Oxford, 2013)

Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic (London, 1971)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources: [the online survey of Scottish witchcraft] [witchcraft bibliography project online] [sources for the Salem witch trials of 1692]

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Witchcraft; Europe; colonies; early modern; history