HS1DDW-Demons and Demonologists: Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe

Module Provider: History
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Prof Helen Parish

Email: h.l.parish@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:

This module is optional for SINGLE HONOURS STUDENTS ONLY.


This module aims to investigate the extent to which there existed coherent ideas about witchcraft and demonic magic, and the impact that learned debates about witchcraft and demons had upon popular beliefs about the supernatural. It will offer intriguing insights into early modern mentalities, and explore the relationship between witchcraft and religion, magic and science, fear and disaster.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that students will be able to:

• identify the sources of the topic in question

• trace its historical development

• be aware of differing historiographical interpretations of the pattern and causes of this development

• understand how ideas and events are shaped by their historical contexts

• organise material and articulate arguments effectively in writing, both under timed conditions and in assessed essays

• demonstrate familiarity with bibliographical conventions and mastery of library skills.

Additional outcomes:

The module also aims:

• to encourage students to think independently 

• to help students develop good oral and written communication skills 

• to develop the effectiveness of students in group situations 

• to develop IT skills through the use of relevant resources. 

Outline content:

The starting point for this module will be one of the most infamous and controversial books of the early modern period, the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), which has been blamed for the death of tens of thousands of women and men. Its instructions on the identification, prosecution, and punishment of witches arguably did much to pave the way for the great witch-hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe and in the New World. Printed treatises such as the Malleus Maleficarum had the potential to do much to raise awareness of witchcraft, and focus attention upon the alleged pact between the witch and the devil.  But were the fears expressed in the literature borne out in reality? Why did the people of early modern Europe fear witches – or witchcraft – so much, and what were the concerns and motivations of those who persecuted and prosecuted witches, and those who made accusations against their neighbours? Seminars will focus upon key primary source texts and discussion of the more recent historiography of witchcraft. Topics for discussion will include the problems (and value) of academic research into magic and witchcraft, the compilation and context of the Malleus Maleficarum, the intellectual origins of the witch hunt, demonologists and their beliefs, the accusations levelled against witches, and the relationship between witchcraft and misfortune, weather, gender, and children. We will also examine a range of trial records and other primary sources from the British and European context.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Teaching is by eight two-hour seminars over one term. Students are reminded to email their tutors for help and advice whenever needed and to note office hours.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Seminars 16
Tutorials 10
Guided independent study 74
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 50
Written assignment including essay 50

Other information on summative assessment:

Written exam 50%: 

one 1-hour unseen paper requiring 1 answer

Written assignment, including essay 50%: 

1 essay of c. 2000 words, to be submitted once via Blackboard on Turnitin by latest 12 noon on the Monday of 11th week of each term.

Formative assessment methods:

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    1 hour

    Requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Where a re-sit is permitted, students will be assessed on the failed element(s) only in August. Any element(s) already passed will be carried forward if it bears a confirmed mark of 40% or more. Any element which is re-sat in August is capped at 40%. Failed coursework must be re-submitted by 12 noon, on the last Friday of August.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 11 September 2017

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