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Ugly History: Witch Hunts - Brian A. Pavlac


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In the German town of Nördlingen in 1593, innkeeper Maria Höll found herself accused of witchcraft. She was arrested for questioning, and denied the charges. She insisted she wasn’t a witch through 62 rounds of torture before her accusers finally released her. Other accused witches weren’t so “lucky." Why did these witch hunts occur? Brian A. Pavlac digs into this horrific chapter in human history.

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Witches and witch hunting are popular subjects in our media these days, but much of what movies, television, and books offer is misleading and misinformed. It is fun to make up stories about magic and witchcraft. But the actual history shows a harsh reality of governments persecuting and killing tens of thousands of people for a crime they did not commit. And the historical facts can seem even more bizarre than many fictional stories, including accounts of the most strange activities blamed on witches, demons, and the Devil.

Of course, issues of witchcraft are not mere past history. Many people today believe in witches, demons, and the Devil, although their beliefs rarely align with those of the time of the witch hunts, from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. In some places in the world today, people are being persecuted as accused witches, although these actions are not quite defined as “hunts” since the government is not involved.

More information about how historians are trying to understand the problem of witch hunting can be found at this website. It includes some discussion about perceptions of historians and links to fairly reliable information on the web. Students can also find some links to primary sources, including translations of letters written by and for Rebecca Lemp, or even take an online simulation of a hunt. With the right choices, and luck, your character might survive! TED-Ed lessons on the Salem Witch Hunt and the Devil offer short overviews of a specific hunt and perspectives on how people have understood the Devil.  

For a short, readable book on the Witch Hunts, try Brian A. Pavlac, Witch Hunts in the Western World: Persecution and Punishment from the Inquisition through the Salem Witch Trials Greenwood 2009 or Bison Books 2010.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Brian A. Pavlac
  • Director Lisa LaBracio
  • Narrator Adrian Dannatt
  • Animator Lisa LaBracio
  • Background Artist Tara Sunil Thomas
  • Clean Up Animator Lisa LaBracio, Tara Sunil Thomas
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma

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