Manhood, witchcraft and possession in old and New England

Gasser, Erika Anne.   University of Michigan ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2007. 3287516.

Abstract (summary)

This dissertation asks how men, as witches, demoniacs and possession propagandists, attempted to affect the outcome of witchcraft-possession cases. How, as gendered subjects with access to gendered language, did they struggle to retain male privileges and identities despite their involvement with these controversial—and traditionally gendered female—episodes? While historians have long recognized that not all witches were female, only recent attention has been paid to the ways that manhood, the culture-specific ideas about what constitutes a successful or unsuccessful man, played a role for these men. To that end, I investigate published representations of these men in early modern England and colonial New England in order to determine the various, and often contradictory, consequences of manhood in witchcraft-possession. Gendered language and assumptions were not the only salient factors in witchcraft-possession narratives, but they reveal that male witches and demoniacs consistently struggled to position themselves (or were positioned by those who wrote about them) in relation to honorable manhood. My project's intervention, in addition to its geographical and chronological scope, rests in part on its insistence upon the material significance of gender in moments customarily viewed as political or religious. Though scholars recognize the inherently gendered nature of politics and religion, the dissertation addresses the implications of the existing literature's tendency to subsume gender for men within other categories of analysis. By including the men who published witchcraft-possession accounts, the dissertation moves beyond the boundaries of the communities that produced witchcraft accusations to consider the broader significance of these episodes that, while relatively rare, held such a disproportionate influence. Studies of witchcraft in early modern England and colonial New England have to acknowledge that these communities were patriarchal—not to claim that all men were patriarchs, but to acknowledge that their potential to be patriarchs differently shaped men's lives in comparison to their female counterparts. Insight into manhood will promote a better understanding of womanhood as well; the histories of men and women, and of masculinity and femininity, promise most when they are not separated by historians in a way they rarely were in life.

Indexing (details)

American history;
Womens studies;
Gender studies
0337: American history
0453: Womens studies
0733: Gender studies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Colonial; Demonic possession; Early modern; England; Gender; Manhood; New England; Witchcraft
Manhood, witchcraft and possession in old and New England
Gasser, Erika Anne
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 68/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Karlsen, Carol F.
University of Michigan
University location
United States -- Michigan
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL