Research and Activity Ideas

Activity 1: Living history—witch hysteria in colonial America

Assignment: Your social studies class has been selected to create a "living history" presentation on witch hysteria in colonial America. Your presentation will be featured in a school program, that will be attended by fellow students, parents, and members of the community. You have been asked specifically not to re-enact the Salem witch trials because most people know about these events. Instead, your project is to depict life in colonial America prior to the witch-hunts, focusing on factors that contributed to an environment of fear and suspicion. You will determine the format of your presentation, but you are expected to make it informative, involve all members of the class, and engage the imagination of the audience.

Preparation: The first task is to hold a class discussion and choose the topics you will cover in your presentation. Possibilities include customs, superstitions, and social circumstances that contributed to witch hysteria in seventeenth-century colonial America. Another important factor would be the witch-hunts in Europe, which influenced settlers who moved to the American colonies. Once you have decided on the top

■•■¡jat&v ics, you need to gather information. A convenient method is to select teams of four or five students who will do research on one particular topic. Using Witchcraft in America as a starting point, the teams must find information at the library and on Internet Web sites. Search for sources such as historians' accounts and documents from the period. Focus on little-known or especially interesting facts.

Presentation: After the teams have completed their research, the next step is to decide how to present the information. Decisions can be made either by the teams or by the class as a whole. Possible forms of presentation could be readings of excerpts from documents such as the Malleus Malifi-carum, the book that ignited the witch-hunts in Europe. Other possibilities include dramatizations of witch-hunts, audiovisual displays of illustrations from books, and demonstrations of witches' healing potions. To enhance the "living history" aspect of the presentation, team members can wear colonial-period clothing and adopt such roles as officials in charge of witch-hunts, accused witches, and townspeople. The final step is to prepare a fifty-minute presentation that will take your audience back to the time before the Salem witch trials and help them understand why the witch-hunts took place.

Activity 2: A teenager's view of the Salem witchcraft trials

Assignment: Imagine that you are a teenager who has been keeping a diary about life in Salem, Massachusetts, at the time of the witchcraft trials. You have a particular interest in the trials because you are a close friend of some of the girls who have accused local residents of being witches. The girls often told you about their involvement in the events that led to their accusations, and you recorded these details in your diary. You have also been attending the trials and keeping a record of their testimony. When the trials are over, you decide to write a final entry in which you give your views about why the witchhunts took place, whether your friends told the truth, and whether justice was served. You plan to keep the diary and share it someday with your children.

Preparation: Your assignment is to compile several diary entries in which you describe: (1) what your friends told you, (2) what they said in court, and (3) your opinion of the trials. To complete these tasks, you must first select at least two friends who will be the focus of the diary entries. For instance, you might choose Ann Putnam, Jr., and Mary Warren, both of whom played a significant role in the trials. Next, using Witchcraft in America as a starting point, find additional information about the trials, focusing especially on your friends' involvement. After you have completed your research, write the entries specified above. You can expect your diary to be about three to five typewritten pages in length.

Presentation: Now, switch roles. Imagine that you have found the diary in a trunk in your grandmother's attic, and then discover that it was written by one of your ancestors. Take the diary to school and read it to your social studies class, which has just completed a unit on witchcraft in America.

Activity 3: Modern-day witch-hunts

Assignment: Your history class is completing a unit on social issues in twentieth-century America. The teacher has distributed a list of topics for independent projects that will enable you to learn more about one of those issues. You have chosen the topic of modern-day "witch-hunts," specifically a comparison of the Salem witch trials with the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. The teacher has encouraged you to find additional examples of modern-day witch-hunts. The project will involve conducting research, writing a paper, and presenting an oral report to the class.

Preparation: The first step is to gather information about the Salem witch trials that you will use as a basis for your comparative analysis. It is essential at this stage to define the term "witch-hunt" that you will apply to modern-day events. Using Witchcraft in America as a starting point, find material in the library and on Internet Web sites that will help you state a definition and provide a frame of reference. Next, searching further in the library and on the Internet, gather information about the McCarthy hearings. At this point you may want to expand the scope of your topic by adding a more recent example of a modern-day witch-hunt. For instance, you might examine newspaper stories about Neo-Pagans and Wiccans to see if these groups can be considered victims of a witch-hunt. Once you have completed your research, write a paper at least five pages in length.

Presentation: Your teacher has requested that, after you have completed your paper, you make a photocopy for each person in the class. Then you are to present a five- or ten-minute oral report to the class, summarizing the results of your research. At the end of the report you will lead a brief discussion of the modern-day witch-hunts you have described in your paper and report.

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