ISBN-10:
1421424371
ISBN-13:
9781421424378
Pub. Date:
01/25/2018
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Switching Sides: How a Generation of Historians Lost Sympathy for the Victims of the Salem Witch Hunt

Switching Sides: How a Generation of Historians Lost Sympathy for the Victims of the Salem Witch Hunt

by Tony Fels
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Overview

For most historians living through the fascist and communist tyrannies that culminated in World War II and the Cold War, the Salem witch trials signified the threat to truth and individual integrity posed by mass ideological movements. Work on the trials produced in this era, including Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Marion L. Starkey’s The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trials, left little doubt that most intellectuals’ sympathies lay with the twenty innocent victims who stood up to Puritan intolerance by choosing to go to their deaths rather than confess to crimes they had never committed.

In Switching Sides, Tony Fels traces a remarkable shift in scholarly interpretations of the Salem witch hunt from the post–World War II era up through the present. Fels explains that for a new generation of historians influenced by the radicalism of the New Left in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Salem panic acquired a startlingly different meaning. Determined to champion the common people of colonial New England, dismissive toward liberal values, and no longer instinctively wary of utopian belief systems, the leading works on the subject to emerge from 1969 through the early 2000s highlighted economic changes, social tensions, racial conflicts, and political developments that served to unsettle the accusers in the witchcraft proceedings. These interpretations, still dominant in the academic world, encourage readers to sympathize with the perpetrators of the witch hunt, while at the same time showing indifference or even hostility toward the accused.

Switching Sides is meticulously documented, but its comparatively short text aims broadly at an educated American public, for whom the Salem witch hunt has long occupied an iconic place in the nation’s conscience. Readers will come away from the book with a sound knowledge of what is currently known about the Salem witch hunt—and pondering the relationship between works of history and the ideological influences on the historians who write them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781421424378
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 01/25/2018
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 988,463
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Tony Fels is an associate professor of history at the University of San Francisco.

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Starkey's Devil in Massachusetts and the Post–World War II Consensus
2. Boyer and Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed and theAnti-capitalist Critique
An Aside
3. Demos's Entertaining Satan and the Functionalist Perspective
4. Karlsen's Devil in the Shape of a Woman andFeminist Interpretations
5. Norton's In the Devil's Snare and Racial Approaches I
6. Norton's In the Devil's Snare and Racial Approaches II
Conclusion
Appendix 1
Appendix 2
Notes
Bibliography
Index

What People are Saying About This

Dane A. Morrison

"An important examination of the historiography of the Salem witch trials, this book demonstrates that we can assign blame, dismiss guilt, and reallocate innocence through the subtleties and nuances of language. Challenging a number of cherished interpretations that continue to define the subject's major arguments, this is a stunning, engaging, well-argued work. It will be difficult for any historian to discuss the events at Salem without introducing Switching Sides."

Michael W. Zuckerman

"Fels knows the Salem witchcraft trials more deeply and expansively than anyone else ever has. With vivacious prose, palpable passion, and powerful reasoning, he delivers a book that is dramatic and dynamic. A rare work of critical historiography that could actually matter, Switching Sides is a brilliant and impassioned volume that will be a must-read for all students of early America."

Michael Kazin

"Switching Sides is a tour de force of scholarly interpretation, but it is also an eloquent challenge to the political assumptions of some of America’s most distinguished historians. With his erudite critique of the reigning wisdom about the Salem witch trials, Tony Fels reveals as much about our own time as about the malevolence that wracked New England at the end of the seventeenth century."

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