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Bringing Salem Witch Trials to Educators with NEH Grant

Salem Witch Trials books
Endicott College has secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to host a three-week summer 2020 seminar for educators on the Salem witch trials.
10/31/2019
No event in early American history has been so mythologized in popular culture and popular memory as the Salem witch trials. The events of 1692 pose questions and prompt disagreements among scholars and historians seeking to understand what happened and why.

To facilitate a deep dive into studying the trials and events surrounding them, Endicott College has secured a $103,338 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to host “The Salem Witch Trials: Their World and Legacy,” a three-week summer 2020 seminar for 16 middle and high school educators on the history, interpretations, and legacies of the renowned historical event. The grant, Endicott’s first from the NEH and second from the federal government, is part of $29 million awarded to 215 humanities projects across the country.

Co-directors Dr. Mark Herlihy, associate dean of the School of Arts & Sciences and chair of humanities, and Dr. Elizabeth Matelski, assistant professor of history, have a combined 22 years of experience teaching courses on the Salem witch trials, including student-involved work digitizing the Salem Witchcraft Papers to create a network analysis of the persons involved.

"We're very excited to host this interdisciplinary seminar,” says Herlihy. “NEH funding is very competitive. Only 31 percent of seminars for K-12 educators proposed by institutions throughout the country were funded. The award from the NEH is a testament to the strength of the liberal arts at Endicott, which complement the College's renowned internship program."

Seminar participants will have the rare opportunity to study history in the location where it actually happened. In addition to classroom sessions, participants will tour important historical sites in neighboring Danvers, Mass.—formerly Salem Village—where key events in the trials occurred, visit present-day Salem, and view actual 1692 court documents housed at both the Peabody Essex Museum and the Danvers Archival Center. Participants can expect to learn how to discern fact from fiction in the Salem witch trials and study topics such as Puritanism, witchcraft, gender roles, slavery, Native American history, and legal studies.

“It’s rare that institutions win NEH grants on their first application round, and the fact that we did speaks to the unique, timeless qualities of our topic,” says Matelski. “Our seminar provides participants with the opportunity to explore the real Salem witch trials in depth and to consider parallels between the 1692 witch crisis and moments in the 20th century marked by fear of enemies, both real and imagined. The legacy of that human behavior still resonates today and will always be relevant.”

The seminar will welcome visiting scholars, including:
• Dr. Richard Godbeer, who has published widely on witchcraft and religion in early American history.
• Adriana Mather, author of the New York Times best-selling young adult novel, How to Hang a Witch. Mather is a direct descendant of Cotton Mather, the prominent Puritan minister whose writings shaped understandings of witchcraft during the trials.
• Richard Trask, Salem witch-hunt historian and archivist at Danvers Archival Center.

The website for “The Salem Witch Trials: Their World and Legacy” will go live on November 1, 2019, at endicottNEH2020.com. Interested educators can visit the site for more information and to apply prior to the March 1, 2020 deadline.

The NEH is an independent federal agency created in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. NEH grants typically go to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars.

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