Date of Award

Spring 2001

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Ellen F Fitzpatrick


The specter of Salem witchcraft haunts the American imagination. No other historical event has provided such a wide range of scholars, dramatists, fiction writers, poets, and amateur sleuths with a subject that so stubbornly resists a final resolution. Although barely nine months passed from the first accusations of witchcraft to the last, those nine months of accusations, confessions, denials, trials, and executions have spawned a vast literature which for 300 years has sought to fix blame or find reason for the ordeal of the witch trials of 1692. The Specter of Salem in American Culture examines this persistent interest by tracing the cultural memory of Salem witchcraft in the nineteenth century.

This thesis argues that by examining the use of Salem witchcraft as a metaphor, we can see the cultural work of history in nation building. By its invocation within a variety of public controversies that ranged from the religious innovations of the 1830s, to the sectional crisis and Civil War of the 1850s and 1860s, and the era of national Reconstruction Salem served to demarcate cultural boundaries and define national identity.