Scope and Objectives

The scope of this research is interdisciplinary and the results will contribute to scholarship in the fields of English, Historical, Humanities Computing, and Visual Communication Design. This study will focus on the roles of print culture in producing the concept of witch and witchcraft in Early Modern England. It will help researchers across the humanities to visualize the movement and evolution of Early English witchcraft - a distinctive, important, and often misunderstood phenomenon in European history. Taking a lead from the visualization projects done by the University of Virginia, this study will create visual meaning from a core group of texts published in Early Modern England between 1500-1700, written by a series of authors with competing agendas. Rather than strip-mining the texts for their hidden value, it will unfold them, letting the texts, as well as the researcher, create and recreate meaningful visual narratives.

This research will fulfill its objectives by addressing the following three interrelated questions:

  1. How can we trace the series of accusations, cross-accusations, relationships, and gossips which turned a restless baby in 1657 into a double execution in March 1662?

How can we trace the movement of accusations? In the case of the Lowestoft witches, the suspicions against Amy Denny began in March of 1657 with the illness of Dorothy Durrant's son. In 1659, Elizabeth Durrant dies of maleficium. In November 1661 Samuel Pacy's daughters identify Denny and a mystery witch as those responsible for their bewitching. By the end of November, Cullender is recognized by the community as a witch. By February 1662, Cullender is accused of working alone to hurt Susan Chandler. The dizzying series of cross accusations in the community of Lowestoft provide a network where accusation could spread, and multiply. In tracing and mapping multiple accusations across a community, we can not only see how ideas about power proliferated, but also the real way that the same concepts changed lives, one pin-vomiting fit at a time. Black and MacDonald argue that GIS gives the ability to query multiple attribute databases to look for trends and changes over time and pose complex queries for one or more locations, something that is "fundamental to a comprehensive understanding of the interrelationships of print culture factors and elements in the socioeconomic environment" (2000). The use of GIS in this project will create a visual framework for illustrating how witchcraft accusations moved across towns. Moreover, in combing the publication data, one will be able to see how those accusations were affected by the press and the effect the press had on influencing more accusations.

  1. How can we trace the various witch's familiars, which are supernatural creatures that will not even stay in the same shape?

The familiar is, for the most part, an animal spirit which does the English witch's black magical work, or maleficium, for her. It is through the familiar, rather than spell casting, that witches hurt their victims. How do we investigate the morphing familiar whose presence in the text is what publicly signifies a woman as a witch, but whose name, form, and use may change based on who owns it and what use they put it to? The first published witchcraft case is that of Mother Waterhouse and her familiar Sathan (1566). It creates a blueprint for the economics of the familiar which will continue to frame published cases to come. The use of GIS should help us visualize and trace temporal, spatial, and societal patterns of witches' familiars, enabling the visualization, manipulation, and analysis of "both the geographic and the attribute data to produce new information about the familiar (Black and MacDonald 515, Ottensmann 26).

  1. How can we reconcile the meaning of a witch's mark, which keeps moving across the body, has its meaning morph over time, and also mutates its owner?

Locating and exposing the hidden witch's mark was considered irrefutable proof that a woman was a witch. The trouble with witch's marks is that they changed. Like the familiar who sucked from them, their form and function morphed. The witch's mark began as a kind of invisible, insensible mark, morphed into a flea-bite of a sore, became an excrescence where a familiar would bite or suck, then became a kind of nipple which lactated unpurified blood. Over the next several publications that nipple moved into the witch's genitals. The mark also changed meaning - from a sign of power, to a way to renew a contract, to a means of placating a fiesty familiar, to a kind of sexual organ used to pleasure the beast and hurt its bearer. The database schema will include a wide variety of data including author, publishers, and kind of text. In querying the texts, one will be able not only to cross-reference spatial and temporal details, but also illustrate connections between the publication of details on the witch's mark and its arrival in subsequent texts.


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