Inquiring After Witchcraft: Medicine, Science and the Supernatural in Early Modern Venice

Jonathan Seitz, Drexel University

Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science, Regional Colloquium

Friday, December 10, 2010 - 3:00pm

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street

Join scholars from the area for the Regional Colloquium in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Time: Discussion, 4:00 - 5:30 p.m.,
followed by social hour and light dinner
Location: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania,
1300 Locust Street
Commentary by Elly Truitt Bryn Mawr College Please download and read the paper in advance. Abstract: The popular conception of witchcraft prosecutions in early modern Europe is one of rank miscarriages of justice consisting of wild accusations, torture, and brutal executions. However, the reality of the pursuit of witches was more complex. In the city-state of Venice, for example, from the mid-1500s to the mid-1600s the Church authorities investigated hundreds of individuals accused of harmful witchcraft. Not one was convicted on that charge. The striking absence of convictions, despite the uniform belief in the reality of witches and witchcraft, brings to light the difficulties early modern individuals had when attempting to draw clear lines between natural and supernatural phenomena. Not only were the criteria by which one might recognize supernatural intervention in the world in flux, but the question of what individuals might have useful expertise about these matters was also far from settled. The approaches to putative cases of witchcraft on display in these trials reveal the complicated interactions between different worldviews circulating in early modern Venice and show how the upheavals of the Counter-Reformation and the Scientific Revolution interacted to reshape early modern attitudes towards evidence and expertise. Jonathan Seitz is an assistant teaching professor in the Department of History & Politics at Drexel University. Elly Truitt is an assistant professor in the History Department at Bryn Mawr College.