I came to the University of Nottingham for my BA History in 2014. Although I expected to enjoy modern and contemporary history, I was drawn in by medieval and early modern history, and particularly enjoyed studying late-medieval English political history. A module on the history of witchcraft in Europe in the final year of my undergraduate sparked a new interest, and one which I have continued to pursue ever since. In 2017 - 2018 I was awarded a Midlands3Cities MA scholarship and completed my MA History with a dissertation on preaching and witchcraft at the University of Nottingham. I began my PhD in History, researching witchcraft in print in early modern Germany and England, in 2018 at the University of Nottingham. I am funded by Midlands4Cities and supervised by Dr David Gehring (University of Nottingham) and Dr Simone Laqua-O'Donnell (University of Birmingham).
Witchcraft in Print in Early Modern Germany and England
My PhD thesis is a comparative study of ideas about witchcraft in early modern Germany and England. It draws on a variety of sources grouped under the broad category 'popular print'; these include broadside ballads (Lieder), single-sheet broadsheets (Flugblätter), occasional news pamphlets (Flugschriften), and printed sermons (Predigten). Despite being textual sources, this group of sources also incorporate aspects of oral and visual culture. Given that the majority of the population in both countries in the early modern period was illiterate or only semi-literate, the intersection of textual, oral, and visual culture provided by these sources offers important insights into ideas that reached a far wider audience than the learned treatises which have often been the focus in studies of witchcraft. The thesis covers the period 1560 to 1700. While there is scattered evidence of print discussing witchcraft prior to 1560, it is only after this point that witchcraft becomes a notable topic in popular print. Peaks in discussions of witchcraft in print occurred in Germany in the 1580s and again between 1610 and 1630; peaks in England occurred later, between 1640 and 1660 and in the 1680s. The chronological scope of my thesis enables exploration of these peak periods in both countries and comparison of the ideas that emerged from them.
The core aim of this thesis is to illuminate the commonalities and divergences in ideas about witchcraft in Germany and England. On the face of it, the experiences of witchcraft in the two countries could not have been more different. Approximately 25,000 people were executed for witchcraft in Germany, whereas in England the number of executions was around 500. Nevertheless, there are some similarities between the two countries that enable further exploration. Both experienced significant religious and political upheaval during the early modern period, events which impacted witchcraft beliefs and witch-hunting. They both also had vibrant print industries and witchcraft appeared in many different printed sources, such as those mentioned above. A detailed comparison of witchcraft in Germany and England has not previously been undertaken, although historians are increasingly recognising the potential of comparative research to offer new insights into the field of witchcraft research which is still largely focused on regional analysis.
The thesis also seeks to explore the notion of 'popular print' more broadly and considers the position of witchcraft within this culture. Why did printers, publishers, and writers choose to write and print works discussing witchcraft? How significant is witchcraft in wider popular print and what does this suggest about the position of witchcraft in early modern worldviews? To address these questions, this thesis investigates the role that witchcraft played within broader themes including crime, identity and gender, and the importance of space and place in witchcraft narratives.
My MA thesis was titled Witchcraft, Reformation and Sermons in Early Modern Germany, 1530 - 1630. It assessed the validity of confessionalisation and acculturation theories using a variety of printed sermons and sermon collections preached about witchcraft from across Germany.