Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft

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Overview

The stark immediacy of what happened in 1692 has obscured the complex web of human passion which had been growing for more than a generation before building toward the climactic witch trials. Salem Possessed explores the lives of the men and women who helped spin that web and who in the end found themselves entangled in it.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books
An illuminating and imaginative interpretation…of the social and moral state of Salem village in 1692. A sensitive, intelligent, and well-written book.
The Atlantic
The authors' whole approach to the Salem disaster is canny, rewarding, and sure to fascinate readers interested in that aberrant affair.
American Historical Review
A large achievement. This book is progressive history at its very best, with brilliant insights.
Canadian Historical Review

This short book is a solid contribution to the understanding of the 1692 witch trials. The authors use impressively rich demographic detail to support the thesis that the witch trials are best explained as symptoms of typical social tensions in provincial towns at the time. According to Boyer and Nissenbaum, Salem villagers played roles determined by economic, geographic, and status interests.
— Richard Ekman

Journal of Women in Culture and Society

An important, imaginative book that brings new insights to the study of the 1692 witchcraft outbreak in Massachusetts. Building on Charles Upham's Salem Witchcraft (1867), Boyer and Nissenbaum explore decades of community tension and conflict in order to explain why Salem was the focus of this episode. The authors reveal a complex set of relationships between persons allied with the growing mercantile interests of Salem Town and those linked to the subsistence-based economy of outlying Salem Village.
— Carol Karlsen

William and Mary Quarterly

A provocative book. Drawing upon an impressive range of unpublished local sources, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum provide a challenging new interpretation of the outbreak of witchcraft in Salem Village. They argue that previous historians erroneously divorced the tragic events of 1692 from the long-term development of the village and therefore failed to realize that the witch trials were simply one particularly violent chapter in a series of local controversies dating back to the 1660s. In their reconstruction of the socio-economic conditions that contributed to the intense factionalism in Salem Village, Boyer and Nissenbaum have made a major contribution to the social history of colonial New England… [They] have provided us with a first-rate discussion of factionalism in a seventeenth-century New England community. Their handling of economic, familial, and spatial relationships within Salem Village is both sophisticated and imaginative.
— T. H. Breen

American historical Review
A large achievement. This book is progressive history at its very best, with brilliant insights.
William and Many Quarterly
Salem Possessed is a provocative book. Drawing upon an impressive range of unpublished local sources, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum provide a challenging new interpretation of the outbreak of witchcraft in Salem Village… A major contribution to the social history of colonial New England… Sophisticated and imaginative.
New York Review of Books - Keith Thomas
Provides an admirable illustration of the general rule that, in Old and New England alike, much of the best sociological history of the twentieth century has only been made possible by the antiquarian and genealogical interests of the nineteenth… This sensitive, intelligent, and well-written book will certainly revive interest in the terrible happenings at Salem.
American Historical Review - Cedric B. Cowing
This is an 'inner history' of Salem Village that aims to raise the events of 1692 from melodrama to tragedy… It is a large achievement. This book is progressive history at its best, with brilliant insights, well-organized evidence, maps, and footnotes at the bottom of the page.
Canadian Historical Review - Richard Ekman
This short book is a solid contribution to the understanding of the 1692 witch trials. The authors use impressively rich demographic detail to support the thesis that the witch trials are best explained as symptoms of typical social tensions in provincial towns at the time. According to Boyer and Nissenbaum, Salem villagers played roles determined by economic, geographic, and status interests.
Journal of Women in Culture and Society - Carol Karlsen
An important, imaginative book that brings new insights to the study of the 1692 witchcraft outbreak in Massachusetts. Building on Charles Upham's Salem Witchcraft (1867), Boyer and Nissenbaum explore decades of community tension and conflict in order to explain why Salem was the focus of this episode. The authors reveal a complex set of relationships between persons allied with the growing mercantile interests of Salem Town and those linked to the subsistence-based economy of outlying Salem Village.
William and Mary Quarterly - T. H. Breen
A provocative book. Drawing upon an impressive range of unpublished local sources, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum provide a challenging new interpretation of the outbreak of witchcraft in Salem Village. They argue that previous historians erroneously divorced the tragic events of 1692 from the long-term development of the village and therefore failed to realize that the witch trials were simply one particularly violent chapter in a series of local controversies dating back to the 1660s. In their reconstruction of the socio-economic conditions that contributed to the intense factionalism in Salem Village, Boyer and Nissenbaum have made a major contribution to the social history of colonial New England… [They] have provided us with a first-rate discussion of factionalism in a seventeenth-century New England community. Their handling of economic, familial, and spatial relationships within Salem Village is both sophisticated and imaginative.
New York Review of Books
An illuminating and imaginative interpretation... of the social and moral state of Salem village in 1692. A sensitive, intelligent, and well-written book.
American Historical Review
This is an 'inner history' of Salem Village that aims to raise the events of 1692 from melodrama to tragedy...It is a large achievement. This book is progressive history at its best, with brilliant insights, well-organized evidence, maps, and footnotes at the bottom of the page.
— Cedric B. Cowing
William and Mary Quarterly
A provocative book. Drawing upon an impressive range of unpublished local sources, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum provide a challenging new interpretation of the outbreak of witchcraft in Salem Village. They argue that previous historians erroneously divorced the tragic events of 1692 from the long-term development of the village and therefore failed to realize that the witch trials were simply one particularly violent chapter in a series of local controversies dating back to the 1660s. In their reconstruction of the socio-economic conditions that contributed to the intense factionalism in Salem Village, Boyer and Nissenbaum have made a major contribution to the social history of colonial New England...[They] have provided us with a first-rate discussion of factionalism in a seventeenth-century New England community. Their handling of economic, familial, and spatial relationships within Salem Village is both sophisticated and imaginative.
— T. H. Breen
Canadian Historical Review
This short book is a solid contribution to the understanding of the 1692 witch trials. The authors use impressively rich demographic detail to support the thesis that the witch trials are best explained as symptoms of typical social tensions in provincial towns at the time. According to Boyer and Nissenbaum, Salem villagers played roles determined by economic, geographic, and status interests.
— Richard Ekman
Journal of Women in Culture and Society
An important, imaginative book that brings new insights to the study of the 1692 witchcraft outbreak in Massachusetts. Building on Charles Upham's Salem Witchcraft (1867), Boyer and Nissenbaum explore decades of community tension and conflict in order to explain why Salem was the focus of this episode. The authors reveal a complex set of relationships between persons allied with the growing mercantile interests of Salem Town and those linked to the subsistence-based economy of outlying Salem Village.
— Carol Karlsen
William and Many Quarterly
Salem Possessed is a provocative book. Drawing upon an impressive range of unpublished local sources, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum provide a challenging new interpretation of the outbreak of witchcraft in Salem Village... A major contribution to the social history of colonial New England... Sophisticated and imaginative.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674785267
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1976
  • Series: Harvard Paperbacks Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 235,888
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Boyer was Merle Curti Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
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Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Salem Village in the Seventeenth Century: A Chronology
  • Abbreviations Used in the Notes
  • Prologue: What Happened in 1692
  • 1. 1692: Some New Perspectives
  • 2. In Quest of Community, 1639–1687
  • 3. Afflicted Village, 1688–1697
  • 4. Salem Town and Salem Village: The Dynamics

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2007

    SALEM

    Reading this novel was both intriguing and informative. One content I enjoyed: the maps and charts detailing locations and family trees and other related line of people. This book provided notations to give proof of the authors notes which maked it easier for useage. The novel is not at all boring and I highly recommend it even for pleasure reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2002

    Very Informative--A bit boring

    I have to say that it was difficult to make it through a page of the book without falling asleep. I am writing an essay on the book for my history class. I feel that the authors' goals were for this book to make the reader think about the social and political factors that were truly the causes for the Salem Witch Trials. While they achieved their goal and the book provided me with a lot of information and different points of views I did not previously have, the book itself was overly wordy and verbose. Many sentences dragged on in length, many of which I lost the point of halfway through.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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