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Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft
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Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  562 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Hardcover, 231 pages
Published August 28th 1997 by MJF Books (first published 1974)
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Emily Farrar
Salem Possessed

By Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum

Review by Emily Farrar

The year 1692 and the name of “Salem” have gone down in U.S. history as one of the biggest “witch hunts” ever seen in our history. But most people don’t know much else about Salem past the witch trials of 1692 which claimed 19 lives. The story fascinates them, makes them hungry for juicy details, but they don’t really care to learn about the deeper political controversy that lead to the events of 1692 and that proceeded tha
...more
Mark Bowles
A. Summary: This book is the study of a single event--the Salem Witchcraft trials in 1692. This is the first book to place this event into its social context--the history of Salem village. The main issue was the factional dispute between Salem town and village. Since there was no central government in Massachusetts at this time a resolution was impossible to legislate. The Salem villagers, feeling alienated by the commercial townsmen, were the central accusers of the “possessed” girls. This accu ...more
Sistermagpie
This was a re-read, but I can't remember how long ago I read it. Historical record of the events of 1692 in Salem that teases out the tense situation that existed in the town, with pretty clearly marked out sides, that exploded into the famous witchcraft trials. Having re-read Entertaining Satan recently, the book about witchcraft trials in New England (apart from Salem) it really emphasized how much the whole idea of witchcraft was an accepted part of society, and how the phenomena was distorte ...more
Samuel
In 1974, Boyer and Nissenbaum combined their efforts to publish a historical accounting about the Salem witch trials of 1692. In addition to the usual body of sources--legal depositions at trials, narrative and polemical publications--the two historians incorporated previously unexplored documents--community votes, tax assessments, lists of local officials (from church archives), as well as wills, deeds, estate inventories, lawsuit testimonies, and a manuscript volume of Reverend Samuel Parris' ...more
Alice Rackham
I had to read this for an Early American History class that I'm currently taking at Valeton. I really wanted to like this book, but I found it so completely dry that it was painful to get through. The book paints a picture of Salem as a period of social competition more than anything else. As a student of history, I suppose that's all well and good and researched and interesting, but as a writer I found myself struggling to lose myself in it. It's a story that SHOULD be much more interesting tha ...more
Sarah
All in all, an excellent read, though I take issue with B & N's use of tax records, the fairy-tail (wicked step-mother) projection motif that dominates the latter half of the book. psychoanalysis isn't easy to do, especially if it's only done by halves. In essence, I missed a more thorough effort to explore the psychological pressures that created this long-lasting catastrophe. I also disagree with N & B's decision to dismiss the girls and their psychological/political motives. To B & ...more
Joseph
This work is best read twice: before and after a more in depth study of the actual trials. What it doesn't do is cover what happened in the trials. One might find this book more helpful for answering 'how' the trials functioned than 'why' they ever occurred.
Ann
I had to read this book for my Anthropology class. It is a great historical compilation of diaries, town records, sermons, etc. that tries to adequately explain what happened in the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. A couple of points of view I found very interesting because I never considered those views. (I don't want to say any more because I don't want to spoil it in case you want to read it.) ;o)
Juris
Boyer and Nissenbaum give an interesting insight of the social history in late 17th century Salem, and this book is and interesting read; but don't expect a bunch of witch tales if that is what you are looking for. The Authors give good sources for their theory of how the Salem Witch Trials occured, but I find it hard to believe that it was all over political factions. Though I did learn plenty from this book and do recommend this book for those who would like a deeper understanding of the histo ...more
Lucy
I suspected that this was a gussied-up dissertation and I believe I was right in my suspicions. The premise of the book was interesting and to me it was new information: the witch trials in Salem Village were as bad as they were due to longstanding factionalism in the village that went back generations. Having made their case the authors went on to make it two or three times again accompanied by a lot of dull charts and illustrations. It's not necessary to finish the book, as is the case with so ...more
Jewels
This book was intriguing in that the authors delved into the schisms of family and neighbors and clearly drew lines that later became the basis of the accusations of witchcraft. They posit an interesting theory as well: what if in the beginning, the possessed girls were merely acting out a religious awakening, what we might call today being 'full of the spirit' or 'speaking in tongues'? The maps drawing the lines of battle between the factions of Salem were also a nice touch.
Timothy McNeil
This was a well written and insightful read. Though I feel that Boyer and Nissenbaum give insufficient in-text citation and justification for their psychological analysis of Samuel Parris (and his motivations) and that the connective tissue to tie all the events and evidence to the thesis is placed far too late in the book, it is not enough to detract from the reader's understanding.
Eileen
This didn't disappoint, giving me an introduction into the Salem witch trials and socio-economic conditions that contributed to that era in history. Not sure I completely understood or agreed with all the ideas presented, but the book gave me plenty to think about and increased my interest in the topic. The author's research and documentation substantiate many of the key points.
John
This book gave a very in depth description of the events surrounding the witch trials and accusations in Salem, MA, in 1692. I got it as a textbook for a class back in 1983 or so. It seems there must be a way to make the book more enjoyable and interesting. It was full of facts but lacked personality in some way.
Eric
Nov 09, 2008 Eric rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historians / students of history

Excellent read on the socio-economic and psycho-social factors that came to a head with the infamous Salem witch trials. This book will be of primary interest to serious students of history and individuals seeking a deeper understanding of the events that led up to and followed the witch trials of 1692.

Robert Smith
This book opened my eyes to a new way of interpreting what the Salem witchcraft trials were about. Was it truly as is traditionally recorded an outbreak of witchcraft or was it something else? This is a great book. It read like a narrative. Some may think that this book drags but it is still a very interesting read.
Michael Mayer
The title was rather misleading; while it is an excellent social history of Salem Village and Salem Town politics and economics the book doesn't delve too deeply into the religious or psychological origins of witchcraft. I found myself continually flipping to the back of the book to see how many pages were left.
Shelly Runyon
I read this in college in a lower division level U.S. History class and it is the book that has stayed most with me from those years. It explores the economics behind the Salem hysteria and gives a holistic overview of a topic that is generally skimmed over (and exploited) in our culture.
Richard
I first read this in the 1970's. A excellent study of the social dynamics that drove the witchcraft accusations and trials in Salem. If you love history you'll enjoy this book. And if you write about witches, witchcraft or use 17th century settings, you'll find this very informative.
Jljcnewton
I never knew too much about the Salem trial. Nissenbaum does an amazing job of delving into the political turmoil that surrounded the area at this time and how the trials were more about polital and economic struggles than witchcraft. It was a fascinating book to read.
Rob Bradley
Ties the Salem Witch trials in with various socio-economic issues of 17th century New England. This book is not just about the trials so if you are looking for all the interesting details about the possessions look elsewhere. Well done book though.
Marion
May 24, 2008 Marion rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: American history students
Shelves: history
This book provides a different theory about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. I don't necessarily agree with the psychoanalysis presented in the book, but the economic theory laid out as a basis for the hysteria does hold weight.
Meghan Cornely
The witch trials have always intrigued to me, so this particular High School AP History read was something I was completely on-board with. I still have this book and have toyed with picking up up for a re-read.
Amy
Sep 04, 2007 Amy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history majors
d to read this book several times throughout college and each time i picked up something i hadn't realized before. If you don't know much about the Salem Witch trials it is an excellent resource.
Cindy
This was for a school assignment; however, it was an interesting take on why the Salem Witch Trials occurred. If you have any interest in this particular part of history, give it a try.
John Mccullough
An excellent summary of the Salem situation but could be amplified with more data and a more expansive viw of the total New England situation in the 1690's.
Cutlerfamily
This was a very interesting, if a bit slow read giving the back story for the Salem witch era in the 1690s. I really learned a lot.
Jessica Pratezina
This book will transform the way you understand the Salem With Trials and the way you view a pivotal piece of American history.
Jennifer
Excellent, detailed, gripping history. Not the sort of book one should attempt to write a HS English paper about, however.
Genevieve
Apr 25, 2007 Genevieve rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: witches, history enthusiasts
Shelves: history
A great introduction to the Salem Witch Trials, which breaks down the trials both demographically and geographically.
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Paul S. Boyer is a U.S. cultural and intellectual historian (Ph.D., Harvard University, 1966) and is Merle Curti Professor of History Emeritus and former director (1993-2001) of the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has held visiting professorships at UCLA, Northwestern University, and William & Mary; has received Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fou ...more
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