The Salem witch trials of 1692 have become a prominent feature of the American cultural consciousness. This is due largely to Nathaniel Hawthorne's fictional works, Arthur Miller's The Crucible (1953), and also some popular nonfiction books, like Marion Starkey's The Devil in Massachusetts (1949) as well as more scholarly works, principally Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed (1974) and Carol Karlsen's Devil in the Shape of a Woman (1987).

The witch trials are often taken as a lens to view the whole Puritan period in New England and to serve as an example of religious prejudice, social persecution, and superstition. While each of these views is appropriate, the words and deeds of the actual people involved have generally been passed over because the original court records have not been readily available. Thus the witchcraft episode is often reduced to an irrational social...

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