Salem Witch Trial Site Analysis

Charles Feinberg

Brett Mele

January 31, 2017

Research Question:

What occurred during the Salem Witch hunt and trial? Who were the key players (accusers, those accused, those who defended the accused, etc.) in the unfolding of the events? What were the social elements of the time, 1690’s, and place, Salem, MA, that prompted such a unique, fantastical display of radical fear-based sexism?

Methods being undertaken:

There are several sections of the site including self-promoting sections and sections pertaining to where additional information on the Salem Witch trials can be found, however, there are four primary sections pertaining to the historical documentation of the events.

  1. Primary sources: (e.g. court transcriptions, first person documentations via diary entries, sermons from Salem Church, etc) directly pertaining to the trials and actions unfolding within Salem, MA during this volatile period from February 1692 to May 1693. Subsections based on type of documentation (e.g. Sermon, diary entries, personal letters court records).
  2. Maps: Scanned maps from 17th/18th century portraying colonial New England, specifically the Salem and surrounding/encompassing regions in which the events unfolded, and multimedia mapping pinpointing regions where specific events occurred. Additionally, GIS tracking technology was used by site proprietors to scan terrain for bodies pertaining to the events further supplementing research.
  3. Archival source work: Historical, public documentation pertaining court records (supreme and county) and trial proceedings that have been claimed and held by both public (e.g. Boston Public Library) or private (e.g. Essex Society) organization. Documents in this section are divided into subsections based on documentation ownership       
  4. Contemporary works: Three scanned versions of notorious, widely-distributed literature that would directly pertain to the events occurring in Salem as a medium for post-hoc contextualization. Literature includes John Hale’s “A Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft” (1697), George Lincoln Burr’s “Narratives of Witchcraft Cases” (1914), and Increase Mather’s “Cases of Conscious Concerning Evil Spirits…” (1693).

File Types/Documents:

The file types on this web page are primarily scanned versions of all primary and secondary source work including maps from the time period. Additionally, the site proprietors have developed a multimedia/interactive maps that allow the viewer to interact with the events on a temporal scale (e.g. pop-up locations of accusers and accused as a function of time).  However, outside of the maps and the proprietor written summaries of different artifacts, the vast majority of the documents are scanned literature based documents. Photography was not an invented medium during the late 17th century, thus there are no visual representations of the events with the exception of several paintings; the majority of which have been rightly excluded from the site as they were not generated while the events were occurring (most were painted during the 19th century) and thus are not historically accurate representations of what occurred. By including the artwork, the historical accuracy of the site would be diminished and artifacts undermined.  


Tools being used/created:

High definition scanners were used for vast majority of the written documents and many of the maps as well adapting these documents into digital versions of their physical forms. Furthermore, GIS mapping technology was used to produce a map depicting the specific layout and infrastructure of Salem and the surrounding areas involved in the events. The product of the GIS mapping is a map that is not only a visual representation of the town’s layout, but furthermore, incorporates social dynamics as a product of house sizes and home’s proximity to and from others individuals. This map can be viewed as a new tool that aides in understanding the personalities of the accusers and accused by how wealthy they were (e.g. size of house) and/or how influential they may have been in town dynamics (e.g. proximity to others/town center).

Outside of GIS maps, the site itself can be considered a new tool in Salem Witch trial analysis. Having the vast majority of the data from the events along with contemporary literature pertaining to the events promotes a unique ability to analyze mass amounts of information efficiently. This prompts new philosophies and an accessible understanding about the events of the Salem Witch trials and the social climate that provoked the events.