19 October 2009

Recording the Salem witch trials

Although parts of the Salem witch trial papers appeared in various printed forms (such as Cotton Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World), it wasn’t until the 1930s that the government-run Works Progress Administration (WPA) program transcribed the entire collection. To make the work more accessible, in 1977 Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum published the WPA transcriptions as a three-volume The Salem Witchcraft Papers (often referred to as SWP).

In 2009, Cambridge University Press published the Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt based on the original 17th-century documents. Bernard Rosenthal and his team of 11 editors—historians, linguists, handwriting specialists, a religious scholar, and an archivist—not only corrected serious transcription errors and added newly found documents, they finally put the papers in chronological order. And, as part of the process, the editors discovered more than 250 different people wrote sections of the witchcraft papers—everything from arrest warrants to trial verdicts—based on handwriting analysis, word usage, and phraseology.

So, we have 150 accused witches jailed, 250 court recorders, nine judges, members of the various juries, witnesses, and countless spectators. The numbers give us an overwhelming sense of how many people were intimately involved with some part of the witch-hunt and trials.

With all these active participants, it makes you wonder who was taking care of hearth and home, as well as the farm animals, crops, and businesses. How did the witch trials affect the everyday life of your 17th century ancestors?

No comments:

Post a Comment