The Social Dynamics of Witchcraft in the Late Middle Ages

Introduction: An Unexpected Specialization I sometimes wonder if graduate students are drawn to their chosen specialty like Perseus responding to a heroic call to action, or are they more like me, tripping over themselves only to fall into what seems to be a pretty good fit, as far as a field of study goes. Despite working on the subject of witchcraft in the late Middle Ages for nearly two years now, I never intended to become a medievalist. No, I entered the graduate program for Literature and Writing Studies fully committed to studying mythology and to writing a thesis on the contemporary function of myth. Instead a small kernel of an idea took root during my first semester of graduate studies, an idea based on a modest term paper written when I was an undergraduate. That term paper, originally titled "From Skill to Scapegoat: The Social Dynamics of Witchcraft," was a response to a course focused on the representations of witchcraft in literature. I wanted to understand "why." Why this particular point in history, what were the contributing factors that led to the witch-craze of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? However, the idea to expand my term paper into a fully developed thesis didn't really take hold until I was invited to present my research, albeit heavily revised, at an annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Conference of British Studies. The process of focusing, revising, and presenting my ideas led me to realize that I hadn't finished with the idea just yet. I found myself wanting to go back and delve more deeply into the sociopolitical and socioeconomic factors that contributed to the rise of the witchcraze to gain a better understanding of how rhetoric of power was manifest in the late Middle Ages. Hence, I tripped over my own research and fell into a specialty.