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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Hans P Broedel
HSTEU 305
Seattle Campus

European Witch Trials

Witchcraft and magical beliefs in Europe considered as a problem in intellectual, social, and legal history. Medieval background, systematization of witchcraft theory in fifteenth century; comparison of learned and popular beliefs; mechanisms of witch trials and inquisitorial procedure; the Faust legend; growth of skepticism and decline of witchcraft in seventeenth century.

Class description

One of the most striking features of early modern European society is its intense fear of witchcraft, a fear that found expression in waves of witch "panics" and the accompanying persecution of thousands of supposed witches. In this course we will examine the evolution of this phenomena, from its origins in the middle ages, to its gradual extinction in the light of modern rationalism and skepticism. Lectures and reading will attempt to make sense of the problems of witch beliefs and witch trials by placing them in appropriate legal, religious, social and intellectual contexts. The course will pay special attention to the question of why the people accused of witchcraft during the Great Witch Hunt were overwhelmingly women, to the importance of a fusion of popular and elite cultural assumptions about sorcery and society in the creation of Early Modern witch beliefs, and to regional variations in witch beliefs and persecution.

Lectures will meet Monday through Thursday, with discussion sections meeting of Friday.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Some familiarity with European medieval or early modern history would be helpful, but is not necessary; students should be prepared to write a substantial, formal academic essay.

Class assignments and grading

Examinations (midterm and final), paper (around 7-10 pages), reading and participation in class discussions.

Basis on which grades are assigned: Although this may change: Exams (60%), paper (30%), discussion sections (10%).


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Edmund K. Kamai
Date: 02/05/1999