Salem Witch Trials: What Really Happened, and Why?

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Duration 01:01:51

University of Maryland

Dr. Richard Bell is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a PhD from Harvard University and has won more than a dozen teaching awards, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress and is the recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship and the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar award. Professor Bell is author of the new book Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home, which was shortlisted for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman Prize.


History of the Salem Witch Trials

Salem, 1692: Two young girls living in the household of one of the town’s ministers are acting strangely, having “fits.” The doctor is called, and he tells the minister that his girls are suffering from the action of the Devil’s ‘Evil Hand’ upon them. News of the doctor’s diagnosis quickly spreads and confirms what many in town are already whispering: that these girls are the victims of witchcraft; that they have been cursed by witches living somewhere in Salem.

Why Did the Salem Witch Trials Happen?

Join University of Maryland historian, Dr. Richard Bell, for a deep dive into witch-hunting in early America. We’ll begin at the beginning: What did people in colonial America believe about witchcraft, and how did they try to hunt it and fight it? What were the hallmarks of an American witch-hunt, and why is the 1692 outbreak of witch-hunting in one sleepy port town in Massachusetts still so well-known today? We’ll examine that infamous episode in depth, probing its most troubling corners. Why did that tragic episode in Salem claim so many innocent lives? Did anyone face justice for their role in perpetuating this outrage? And how have historians tried to explain the peculiar dynamics, impact, and legacy of what happened in Salem?



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Jeffrey Watt

Salem Witch Trials

We really enjoyed this lecture. So much interesting detail and a nice job delineating the difference between the Crucible and the actual historical events. Phenomenal lecturer–he was fabulous!

2 years ago
Peter Kahn

Loved your lecture. Can’t wait for the next one. All the best for a Happy New Year

2 years ago
Terry Hicks

Interesting and thought provoking.

2 years ago
Derek Weselake

Nice overview

Part of me just think it’s kids being jerks and not knowing full extent of her actions. As kids me and my friends would prank call random people and pretend we were possessed by the devil using creepy crackly voices. We didn’t catch on to how sick that was till we were adults.

2 years ago
Amanda cunningham


Interesting and broad-angled

7 months ago

Excellent and fascinating!

Another wonderful lecture by Prof. Bell. He elucidates the Salem phenomenon and puts it into context of the period and explores and evaluates the various hypotheses scholars have given for its causes, some more convincing than others, but apparently none that will give us all closure on this tragic event.

7 months ago
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