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Weekend Seminar: The Salem Witch Trials

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Students in Honors Seminar on "The Great Witch Hunt, 1450-1700" added to their knowledge of this dark but fascinating episode in the history of the Western world at a weekend seminar on "The Salem Witch Trials." This mini-seminar took place at the ONU Nature Center in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, on October 30-31.

Dr. John Lomax, who teaches "The Great Witch Hunt," led the students on an intense exploration of the witch hunting frenzy that took hold of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. He was assisted by Professor Ray Schuck, a specialist in public history and museum studies. The students at this seminar were Tracy Campbell, Clara Harrod, Nicole Heidelberg, Carolyn Lishawa, Bethany Miller, Kelly White, and Carol Wilson.

They read, discussed, and reported on documents from the trials themselves as well as seventeenth-century theological treatises on witchcraft, contemporary accounts and responses to the Salem witch trials, and modern scholarly studies of the trials. They discovered that the Salem episode is an excellent case study in the witch hunting ideology of the early modern era. At the same time, they found that it is necessary to consider factors that were specific to Salem and the colony of Massachusetts to account for size, velocity, and ferocity of the 1692 hunt.

The weekend was topped off with two films, the classic Arthur Miller drama "The Crucible," an account of the Salem witch trials that drew its inspiration from the hunt for Communists during the Red Scare of the 1950's. They also viewed "The Blood on Satan's Claw," a decidedly B-grade English cult horror film of the 1960's that nonetheless a smörgåsbord of the stereotypical traits of early modern witch hunts and modern ideas about witches, such as malicious magic, the pact with the devil, devil worship, demonic familiars, the witches sabbath, ritual murder, and cannibalism.

The weekend seminar took place at the ONU Nature Center, a study center established in 1989 through the generosity of The Hiller Family Charitable Trust. Academic departments, administrative units, and other groups at ONU regularly take advantage of the many features of the Nature Center, which include a modern study center with classrooms, laboratory facilities, display areas, lounge, dining area, a restaurant-quality kitchen, and lodging facilities for sixteen students. The Nature Center is on the historic Metzger farm, which has a fully renovated farm house to house faculty and visitors, a barn, a pond, and an archaeological site. Wayne and Carol King, who operate the facility for the university, always provide mounds of quality family style food for students, so it is best to go there hungry.

Every year, Professor Schuck conducts a Field School in Archeology on the site, at which students learn the basics of site preparation and excavation, the handling and identification of artifacts, and the proper storage and display of artifacts. Other Weekend seminars that HPJ has held there include Teacher Licensure Orientation, Film and War, Serial Killers, Hostage Negotiation, and Football on Film.