Salem Witch Trial Project – Harris Pollack and Isabella Bossa

What kind of files, data, objects are being used in the project question?

The Salem Witch Trials Archive uses documents and transcriptions, historical maps, archival collections, and contemporary books.

The original documents were written in the 17th century, and the archive provides access to numerous files that include verbatim transcriptions of the court records (and pictures of the original manuscripts in some cases), records and files of transcriptions of the Quarterly Counts of Essex County, pictures of original court records (located in various libraries and museums around the world), and electronic versions of record books.

The site provides various historical maps, including a map of the Salem Village in 1692, a map of Andover in 1692, a map of Salem in 1700, and a map of witchcraft accusations from February to March 1692. Some of the maps are static, while others are interactive.

Users also have access to pictures of original manuscripts kept in collections in a number of archives across the country, such as the Boston Public Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Massachusetts Archives, the Boston Judicial Archives, the New York Public Library, and the Maine Historical Society.

Lastly, the archive gives users access to scanned versions of six contemporary books relevant to the topic: Wonders of the Invisible World by Cotton Mather, More Wonders of the Invisible World by Robert Calef, Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits by Increase Mather, A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft by John Hale, Some Miscellany Observations on our Present Debates in a Dialogue Between S.&B. by Samuel Willard, and Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases by George Lincoln Burr.

What is the project research question? Or questions?

The project’s goal is to thoroughly analyze the Salem Witch Trials. All the materials provided by the archive allow readers to carefully study and inspect court documents, relevant people and places involved, the time frame of the accusations and trials, and pertinent academic material on the issue. Therefore, the research question is aimed at studying why did the trials happen, who were the people involved (either as a defendant, a plaintiff, a judge, or a simply as a witness or a citizen), how did the trials develop, where did it all happen, and how is the issue perceived in contemporary books.  

What tools are being used? Created?

Throughout the website and archives, scanners are used to scan old documents that include maps, personal letters and record books. The project also includes transcriptions of the original court records, and in some cases, scanned photographs of original manuscripts. Lastly, the website utilizes links from other library and museum archives. The archives typically have either a transcription or a scanned image of a relevant document. Additionally, researchers used a geographic information system (GIS) which gives visual representation of social context of the witch trials episode by placing the people mentioned in court records in their actual house locations in the village. This tool enabled researchers to create a graphic map that represents important location and demographic information (age, gender, frequency of accusations by individuals, etc).

*Funding has been provided by foundation grants.

What methods are being undertaken?

The method used is a well organized website that displays different types of information. The project organizes people by their roles in the trials (categories include executed, trial critics, died in jail, ministers, officials, afflicted girls, defenders of the accused, associate magistrates, and other accusers). Additionally, the project creators have uploaded, transcribed, or scanned photos of contemporary books and documents, maps, and court archives. A user can select what type of primary or secondary source they want to investigate. Furthermore, tools such as the GIS enabled the researchers to test court record accuracy and examine geographic surroundings in Salem that influenced the witch trials.