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Posted on April 24th, 2014, by

Talking about authors’ writing style, there are plenty of interesting tips, but one of them seems to be the most curious. There is a talk about skillful and harmonic combination of scientific and fictional styles of narration, that make appropriate book interesting, exciting and cognitive at the same time. As any other historical work, “Salem Possessed, the social origins of witchcraft” allows its readers to get acquainted with large portion of dry historical facts of age and place it deals with.Ā  On the other hand, there are also plenty of extremely sensitive inserts, which add the general concept felicitously. For example, the page 135 contains next words: “For young Thomas Putnam, Jr., then, the future may have been bright, but not quite so bright as the life he already knew ”¯. The page 117 attracts us with the next section: “It’s a moving document to read today ”“ though it ultimately failed to save Rebecca’s life ”“ it must have been so moving at least in 1692. It also true that every phrase of this seemingly artless composition is precisely chosen to conveyĀ  – not in so many words, but in the careful shadings of the narrative account”¯ (Boyer and Nissenbaum). In this way, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum endow history with the soul and made its characters alive. All this in common contributed readers’ empathy, which is not so often for historical readings.

It will not be surprising to say that the work under review remains pretty disputable in wide circles. In large part, these disputes are turned around the bibliography that involves a lot of before unknown sources, which raise suspicions about material’s credibility. Being not able to investigate all of them, we have to rely on authors’ authority in scholar circles. Fortunately, it raises no doubts. Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum are both respectful historians with quite impressive teaching and scientific experience. Paul Boyer who dies on March 2012, U.S. cultural and intellectual historian (Ph.D., Harvard University, 1966) and Merle Curti Professor of History Emeritus and former director (1993”“2001) of the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin”“Madison. In his turn, Stephen Nissenbaum was a Fulbright Distinguished Professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He held major fellowships from the NEH, the ACLS, Harvard’s Charles Warren Center, and the American Antiquarian Society. At last, let’s notice that the book under review has won American Historical Association’s John H. Dunning Prize.

Notwithstanding all regalia, the result of scholars’ work still remains argued a lot. In most part, reviews to it contain the reference towards reading’s revolutionary and challenging meaning. However, there are also some more modest views. In this regard, we can mention already cited Bernard Rosenthal who stands for incomprehensive nature of scientific analysis in “Salem Possessed, the social origins of witchcraft”. In addition, we may remind Kate Murphy, who called authors’ approach speculative and circumstantial: “Boyer and Nissenbaum’s analysis of communal conflict also omits the religious ideas behind the trials – the very ideas which the people of Salem would have believed to be most important. Writing forty-five years before Boyer and Nissenbaum, Perry Miller believed that “I do not need to demonstrate that belief in witchcraft was, for the seventeenth century, not only plausible but scientifically rational,” because in 1939 Miller believed that the subject was well rehearsed”¯ (Murphy).

In my opinion, to support or to refute noted outside views, we have to determine the way of our understanding. If we treat book like a multifaceted background historical research, the claims are worth of satisfaction. However, if we see “Salem Possessed, the social origins of witchcraft” as some kind of new and fresh look to the already researched problem, which do not claim the title of “absolute truth”¯ ”“ the conclusion is contrary to the first one. Seemingly, the second approach is more appropriate if you are going to read “Salem Possessed, the social origins of witchcraft”. Analyzed work is a kind of the other side of the story combined to extremely attractive and cognitive style of narration that deserves attention of even the most sophisticated reader.

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