Professor Marion Gibson at the Helston Museum, where she recently participated in the Modern Folk festival.

Renaissance witchcraft expert joins In Our Time panel

A University of Exeter professor will be joining Melvyn Bragg and a panel of fellow experts to discuss the Salem Witchcraft Trials on Radio 4 this week.

Marion Gibson, Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures in the Humanities Department at Penryn Campus, will be taking part in In Our Time, a series which explores the history of ideas, and subjects in culture and science, alongside Simon Middleton from the University of Sheffield and Susan Castillo from King’s College London.

The panel discussion will focus on the outbreak of witch trials centred in Salem in Massachusetts in 1692-3, which led to the execution of 20 people. At its peak, around 150 people were suspected of witchcraft, and although many of the claims of witchcraft arose from personal rivalries they were upheld by the courts at a time of mass hysteria, belief in the devil, fear of attack by Native Americans and religious divisions.

“We think we know a lot about the witch trials but the story is actually a lot harder to follow than we think. I am anticipating that we will be exploring what are the myths and what is the reality but as the programme is live, we don’t know exactly how the discussion will go,” said Professor Gibson. “It’s exciting.”

Her latest book Rediscovering Renaissance Witchcraft, which examines the ways in which sixteenth and seventeenth century writings on witchcraft have continued to inspire modern literature, especially popular novels, poems and films in Britain and America, will be published by Routledge next year.

“I especially hope I get the chance to talk about the Salem “witch” Tituba,” Professor Gibson added. “Tituba was almost certainly a Native American woman, but was later described as an African because she was most likely a Caribbean slave.  Some parts of her story simply aren’t known, and it’s important not to misrepresent her because she could leave no record for herself. As a result, she’s often labelled as someone who actually practised witchcraft, but there is no evidence that she did and she was never convicted.”

The Salem Witch Trials edition of In Our Time will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 between 9am and 10am on Thursday November 26, after which it will be available as a podcast.

Date: 23 November 2015

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