Witchcraft in History (HISM406)

Lecturer(s)Dr Jonathan Barry
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
Pre-requisitesThose of entry to the MA programme
Duration of ModuleOne Term (11 weeks)
Total Student Study Time15 hours per week, including 2 hour seminar

Module aims

To introduce the main currents in the historiography of witchcraft and related topics, both to establish the main interpretative models in the discipline and to show the relationship of these models both to other disciplines and to broader cultural and ideological movements in modern society. Students will be asked to examine a range of approaches to the history of witchcraft in the medieval, early modern and modern periods, including those influenced by anthropology, folklore, feminism, psychoanalysis, and postmodernism.

Intended learning outcomes

Module-specific skills

An appreciation of the main interpretative models in witchcraft historiography and related studies; an understanding of the relationship of these models to a range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences; an ability to offer a critique of each of these interpretative models; an ability to relate these models to broader cultural and ideological developments in modern society.

Discipline-specific skills

Students should demonstrate the ability to analyse and synthesise widely different types of historical material and evidence. They should be able to identify and understand the nature of original sources. They should have a critical understanding of key historical concepts and debates. Students should be able to research for themselves and present independent accounts and interpretations of different historical issues.

Personal and key skills

Capacity for independent critical study and thought. The ability to apply key bibliographical skills (including the use of on-line finding aids). The ability to construct and defend a sustained argument, both in written form and orally, using primary and secondary materials. Students should have the capacity to work as an individual and to work with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way (e.g. lead a group discussion or task).

Learning and teaching methods

Weekly two-hour seminar focused on a set theme. Students will be required to undertake preparatory reading of primary and secondary materials. Individual and group presentations will serve as the basis for discussion guided by the module tutor. Essays will be assigned, discussed and returned in individual tutorials.


One essay of 5000 words (comparing the treatment of a theme in witchcraft studies by two or more approaches), one essay of 3000 words (offering a critique of a single historiographical approach to witchcraft studies), plus seminar presentation (s). These assignments test the ability of the students to compare and contrast approaches and to locate them in their disciplinary and cultural context.


One essay of 5000 words (worth 62% of overall assessment) and one essay of 3000 words (worth 38% of overall assessment).

Syllabus plan

1. Introduction: what is witchcraft historiography?
2. Kittredge: the American liberal tradition and folklore
3. Murray: the debate over a witch cult
4. Cohn and Trevor Roper: persecution and holocaust
5. Thomas: the relevance of social anthropology?
6. Larner and Muchembled: state formation and acculturation
7. Ginzburg: the return of popular supernaturalism
8. Roper and Purkiss: feminism and psychoanalysis
9. Clark: the linguistic turn and intellectual history
10. Briggs and Sharpe: microhistories and social history
11. Hutton and Davies: modern and postmodern perspectives

Indicative basic reading list

J.Barry and O.Davies (ed.), Palgrave Advances in Witchcraft Historiography (Basingstoke, 2007)
J. Barry, M Hester and G. Roberts (ed.), Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1996)
M. Murray, The Witch Cult in Western Europe (London, 1921)
N. Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons(London, 1975)
K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Harmondsworth, 1973 edn)
C. Larner, Enemies of God (London, 1981)
C. Ginzburg, Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches Sabbath (Harmondsworth, 1995 edn)
L. Roper, Oedipus and the Devil (London, 1994)
D. Purkiss, The Witch in History (London, 1995)
S. Clark, Thinking with Demons (Oxford, 1997)
R. Briggs, Witches and Neighbours(London, 1996)
R. Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon (Oxford, 1999).