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Study information

The Witchcraze in Europe and its Colonies c.1300-1800

Module titleThe Witchcraze in Europe and its Colonies c.1300-1800
Module codeHIH2181A
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Professor Jonathan Barry (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

How and why did Europeans – at all levels from monarchs and intellectuals to peasants – come to regard innocent people, mostly women, as witches and hence a real threat to society, and why did this belief, and the persecution it created, reach its most intense levels in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? Some of the most interesting works of modern history-writing have tackled this enigma, and drawn on other disciplines such as anthropology, literature, psychology and philosophy to do so, using witchcraft to explore the impact of gender, class, ideology, religion, climate change, imperialism and the new science on Europe and its colonies.

Module aims - intentions of the module

You will need effective communication and analytical skills, oral and written, to complete many of your modules and in a job after you graduate.  This module aims to help you develop your skills in researching, interpreting, and analysing both primary and secondary material, and in reporting on your work.  It provides you with an opportunity to explore an area of history in more depth, and helps you to develop the depth of understanding you will require to study more specialised areas of history.  It will also give you an opportunity to work in a team on group tasks.

By the end of this module, you will be able to discuss how and why the fear of witchcraft so deeply affected European societies during the late medieval and especially the early modern period, and when/why these fears abated.  You will be able to analyse the different types of explanation offered for this, and how they draw upon insights and theories from other disciplines. You will be able to compare and contrast the experiences of different European nations, communities and individuals and use this knowledge to consider whether there actually was a unified ‘witchcraze’ across Europe, or whether this is an unhelpful retrospective creation. You will also be familiar with a range of primary sources, both written and visual, including demonologies, theological texts, personal accounts, literary texts, news books, legal texts, and printed images.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Be aware of the various developments in the history of European witchcraft.
  • 2. Make a close evaluation of the key developments and debates in the history of European witchcraft.
  • 3. Evaluate the main themes in the subject and to collate information upon, and evaluate in greater detail, those aspects of the module discussed in seminar and especially those topics selected by students for their coursework.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Analyse the key developments in the historiography of European witchcraft, and hence of crime, gender, religion, culture, and science.
  • 5. Collate data from a range of sources, both primary and secondary.
  • 6. Interpret primary sources.
  • 7. Trace long-term as well as short-term historical developments.
  • 8. Recognise and deploy historical terminology correctly.
  • 9. Assess different approaches to historical writing in areas of controversy.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Work both independently and in a group, including participating in oral seminar discussions.
  • 11. Identify a topic, select, comprehend, and organise primary and secondary materials on that topic with little guidance.
  • 12. Produce to a deadline and in examination conditions a coherent argument.

Syllabus plan

The first half of this module will consider the origins and development of demonology and the prosecution of witchcraft in Europe, and the patterns, both temporal and spatial, of its nature and intensity. The second half will focus on models of explanation, exploring the changing historiography of the subject, and how historians have drawn on models from such areas as anthropology, criminology, feminism, psychology and literary theory to explain the apparently irrational fears, not just of ordinary people, but of intellectuals and political elites, and how witchcraft might have both reflected and shaped the course of European history. These themes will be set out in the lectures and explored, through primary sources, in the seminars, with group presentations on the distinctive experience of different regions/countries of Europe and its colonies during this period. 

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 22 hoursLectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22 hoursSeminars; these will be led by the tutor. You will need to prepare for each seminar and present on a given topic in groups of 4 on 4 occasions
Guided Independent Study22 hoursWeb-based activities located on ELE – preparation for seminars and presentations
Guided Independent Study 234 hoursReading and preparation for seminars and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan x 1500 words1-12Verbal and written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay603000 Words1-12Written and oral
Take Home Exam402,500 words1-12Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay3000 Words1-12Referral/deferral period
Take Home ExamTake Home 2,500 words 1-12Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment of the essay and exam are exactly the same, a 3,000 words essay (worth 30%) and a 2 hours exam (worth 50%). The group presentation will be replaced by a written script equivalent to 10 minutes of speech.

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Bailey, Michael. Magic and Superstition in Europe (2007)
  • Barry, Jonathan, and Owen Davies (eds), Palgrave Advances inWitchcraft Historiography (Basingstoke, 2007)
  • Behringer, Wolfgang, Witches and Witch-Hunts: a Global History (Cambridge, 2004)
  • Clark, Stuart. Thinking with Demons: the Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford, 1997)
  • Gaskill, Malcolm. Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2010)
  • Levack, Brian. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, 3rd edn(London, 2005)
  • Levack, Brian (ed), The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft and Magic in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (Oxford, 2013)
  • Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic (London, 1971)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Witchcraft; Europe; colonies; early modern; history

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


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