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May 13, 1974

Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago


by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, 231 pp, with illus, $10, Harvard University Press, 1974.

JAMA. 1974;228(7):910. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230320070050

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The study of witchcraft falls within many different disciplines, particularly in the fields of cultural, social, and medical history. Boyer and Nissenbaum, social historians in Massachusetts, have written a splendid study of the witchcraft persecutions of 1692, a study that illuminates the whole social history of the 17th century and will appeal to medical historians, psychiatrists, and all who have a real interest in the history of culture.

Drawing on much untapped primary source material, the authors analyze social and economic factors operative in 17th century Salem. Within a few generations after its founding, there developed marked social, commercial, and religious tensions, conflicts between the agricultural and commercial interests, political struggles, interpersonal rivalries for dominance, problems in church organization and control, with dispute over who should set the policies. The community became polarized at various social and economic levels, and the psychological and personal animosities, coupled with economic prob