Friday, October 30, 2015

The Witches: Salem, 1692

A book review from the New York Times:
Historians, like terriers, are diggers, but Salem offers stony soil for discovery. Still, scholars have offered astonishingly fresh interpretations from sources long since chewed over. In “Salem Possessed” (1974), Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum revolutionized the field of social history with their patient mapping of the domestic and economic tensions that, they argued, explained the outbreak. More recently, Mary Beth Norton’s “In the Devil’s Snare” (2002) advanced an electrifying analysis of the witch crisis as a reaction to the Indian wars that consumed northern New England in the 1680s and 1690s. Schiff has read these works, and much more; her endnotes show that she and her team of researchers — she credits eight of them in her acknowledgments — have mined the literature voraciously. Schiff also shows a reporter’s instinct, referring to interviews and email exchanges with leading scholars. She leans most heavily on the monumental “Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt” (2009), a thousand-page collaborative editing project led by Bernard Rosenthal. The documents meticulously compiled by Rosenthal and his team invite new questions, but Schiff does not pursue them. Those who think of history as a process of detection leading to original interpretation will find little new, and less of interest here. (Read more.)

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