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PFC Explanations and Theories of the Salem Witchcraft Trials Discussion

In Topic #2, we looked at the origins and events of the Salem Witchcraft Trials in 1692. This fascinating episode from colonial history served as a great cautionary tale about community fears and the experience of living through the damaging effects of a “witch hunt.”   Still today, historians, authors and the general public still probe for answers as to why this event happened in Salem Village.

In this discussion, write two (2) posts where you address any of the following three questions about the Salem Witchcraft Trials or a reply to another student.  Your two posts may be answering two of the three questions OR one post that answers one of the three questions and then a reply to another student.  Therefore, after your initial post answering one of the three questions, you choose what you want for your second required post – answer to another question or reply to a student.   Before writing your 1st post, if you have not already done so, watch and take notes from the online lecture “Colonial New England in the 17th Century” to learn the historical background of colonial New England and the Salem Witchcraft Trials.    Then open the Word file found also in the Discussions module that contains articles on the Salem Witchcraft Trials.  They are “The Afflicted Girls of Salem Village” by Kathy Weiser and “The Theory That May Explain What Was Tormenting the Afflicted in Salem’s Witch Trials” by Nik DeCosta-Klipa.  Read these articles to help decipher reasons for the afflicted girls’ physical symptoms and reasons they accused other villagers of being witches.  Understanding the content of these articles are necessary to help formulate your post.

Here are the questions you can address:

  1. In general terms, what do you believe are the strengths and shortcomings of ascribing medical explanations to long ago historical figures whom present-day doctors cannot directly diagnose? Do you believe with brilliant insight, it can be effective?  Or is at best hit and miss?  Or do you believe it to be completely flawed? Can for example, modern-day doctors accurately diagnose if the afflicted girls of Salem Village suffered from stress, epilepsy, ergot poisoning or delusional psychosis?
  2. Provide your interpretation why the girls exhibited their physically symptoms and accused others in the community of being witches.  Did they appear bored and were looking for attention?  Did they appear to be malevolent and vengeful in their accusations?  Did they appear really to believe they were under the spell of witches?  Did they appear to be acting out in a stressful or repressive environment?  Or do you believe this is something unknowable and why?  Provide your best support and insight to the position you decide to take incorporating if you like from Kathy Weiser’s brief biographies of the afflicted Salem Village girls.
  3. After reading the central ideas to Nik DeCosta-Klipa’s “mass conversion disorder” theory, do you believe this disorder may be a compelling reason to explain the afflicted girls’ behavior?  Why or why not?  Build your position by looking at the evidence and support DeCosta-Klipa provides or, if you choose, point out any flaws or shortcomings in his article.

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