The Witches

The Salem witch trials are a modern touchstone for US culture and, by extension, anywhere influenced by it. The stuff of notable allegories it is as easy to reach for as 1984 or Animal Farm when seeking to sum up something one does not like; one of the main things that I learned from Schiff’s excellent book, though, is how little I know about what actually went on.

This is not an accident; one of the first things Schiff sketches out while introducing the reader to the topic is that very little genuinely contemporary material has survived. Many of the records taken during the trial were extremely uneven, to a degree unusual in the culture of the time, and within a few years the folk of Massachusetts had, without ever really directly admitting as much, collectively decided the whole thing was something to be embarrassed about, something which does not aid in the survival of the accounts that did exist.