Witches, Witchcraft and Witch-Hunts in Early Modern Europe and New England

The details
Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 28 June 2024
26 September 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module will focus on a phenomenon peculiar to the early modern period: the prosecution of c.100,000-120,000 people for the crime of witchcraft in Europe and its colonies, which resulted in around 50-60,000 executions.

Students taking this module will engage with key historiographical debates in the field and with the main types of primary sources (all available in English) for the study of early modern witchcraft beliefs and witch-trials (demonologies, trial-records, pamphlets and images).

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To train you in the reading, analysis, and critical assessment of a range of primary sources relating to the witch-trials and the belief systems which underpinned them.

  • To enable you to engage critically and independently with the diverse historiography of witchcraft.

  • To enable you to engage imaginatively and empathetically with the early modern culture and society in which witch-trials took place.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Gain an understanding of a complicated and large-scale historical phenomenon and be confident in comparing witch-trials across time and space.

  2. Be able to read, understand and evaluate critically a varied range of relevant primary sources and historiographical debates.

  3. Demonstrate writing skills across a range of written assessments (including a piece of empathy writing).

Module information

In order to understand this phenomenon, and also the regional and chronological variation in witch-trials across Europe during the early modern period, we will explore: 

  • beliefs about witchcraft, magic and the devil, at both popular and elite levels.

  • The legal context of witch-trials (laws, trial processes and the use of torture).

  • What motivated accusers and witch-finders in witch-trials.

  • Whether or not there was a 'stereotypical' witch.

  • The gendering of witch-persecution.

  • Why people confessed to being witches.

  • Why witch-trials declined and then stopped by the end of the 18th century.

Introductory Reading 

  • Brian P. Levack, The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe (ideally the 3rd edition, Pearson Longman, 2006).

  • Julian Goodare, The European Witch-Hunt (Routledge, 2016).

  • Brian P. Levack (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (Oxford, 2013).

  • Malcolm Gaskill, Witchcraft. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2010).

  • Johannes Dillinger (ed.), The Routledge History of Witchcraft (Routledge, 2016).

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 2-hour workshop each week.


In each workshop, the Module Tutor will provide essential context-setting information in the form of a ‘mini’ lecture. Students are expected to do the set reading and to be prepared to discuss it with their peers in workshops.

There will also be plenty of time in workshops to work on primary source analysis skills, to practise assessment tasks, and for general Q & A.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Empathy writing (2000 words)  14/12/2023  30% 
Coursework   Essay (2500 words)  14/03/2024  35% 
Coursework   Primary source extracts analysis (1,500 words)  02/05/2024  30% 
Practical   Seminar participation     5% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Alison Rowlands, email:
Professor Alison Rowlands
History UG Administrators:



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 24 hours, 24 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


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