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Salem Witch Trials in History and Literature An Undergraduate Course University of Virginia Spring Semester 2001 Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaums Salem Possessed explores the pre-existing social and economic divisions within the Salem Village community as an entry point to understand the accusations of witchcraft in 1692 According to Boyer and Nissenbaum the village split into two factions one interested in gaining more autonomy for Salem Village and led by the Putnam family and the other interested in the mercantile and political life of Salem Town and led by the Porter family Boyer and Nissenbaums deft and imaginative look at local records reveals the contours of communal life in colonial New England and provides a model through which to understand the witchcraft accusations as part of a larger pattern of communal strife Such a tight focus on communal and social causes for the events of 1692 however loses sight of the religious gendered and individual forces that played equally pivotal roles in the outbreak Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaums Salem Possessed The Social Origins of Witchcraft redefined the standard for the possibilities social history offers to understand the events and people of early America Through a painstaking and creative look at local records such as legal records the Salem Village record book the ministers book and tax records Boyer and Nissenbaum discovered a long-standing pattern of contentious behavior of which the witchcraft accusations in 1692 was just one episode Their analysis provides an invaluable insight into the social history of New England generally and the factions of Salem Village that led to the tragic events of 1692 in particular Boyer and Nissenbaums explanation for the outbreak of witchcraft accusations in Salem hinges on an understanding of the economic political and personal issues which divided village long before 1692 At bottom geography and history divided Salem Village and Salem Town Situated in the interior from the bustling mercantile town of
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