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Reviewed by:
  • Writing Witch-Hunt Histories: Challenging the Paradigm ed. by Marko Nenonen, Raisa Maria Toivo
  • Erika Gasser
Marko Nenonen and Raisa Maria Toivo, eds., Writing Witch-Hunt Histories: Challenging the Paradigm. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions. Leiden: Brill, 2014. xiv + 220 pp.

Marko Nenonen and Raisa Maria Toivo’s edited volume, Writing Witch-Hunt Histories, spans a broad geographic and chronological range and provides a useful overview of the trajectories in historical scholarship about European witch hunts from the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries. The volume reflects the field’s foundation in early modern Europe, with side glances at England and America, and reviews both established and emerging scholarship of areas previously viewed as peripheral to European studies: Finland, Russia, areas of northern Norway populated by the Sami people, and parts of the Iberian world receive particular attention. It ends with a chapter that addresses the pertinence of historical scholarship for modern pagan witches, and the potential for this scholarship to factor in current struggles around the world to prevent violence against those suspected of being witches today.

Both the first chapter, which is by both of the editors, and the second, by Nenonen independently, provide a comprehensible overview of key trends in witch-hunt scholarship, note the expansion of the field beyond old geographic limits, and suggest possible directions for future research. Graduate students, or anyone who wants a succinct encapsulation of the subject’s lengthy historiography, will find much of use here. There are some curious choices, as when Nenonen devotes far less attention to the question of accused witches’ sex than to social status and scapegoating, all three of which he views as central to theories about witch hunts based on “mistaken generalities” since corrected by more vigorous scholarship. While it is possible this choice followed from a desire to leave space for Toivo’s chapter that addresses questions of sex and gender at length, it has the unfortunate result of suggesting how much more readily one might expect an audience of historians to be willing to dismiss questions of sex in comparison to other factors. Nenonen later returns to gender and social status when considering what he calls the “western European paradigm of witch-hunt history,” in which European scholars’ sense of “political and ecclesiastical geography” distorted their methods and findings (30–35). Whether or not it is “grotesque” that historians have been prompted to pursue new lines of inquiry by external factors such as European union rather than by the discipline’s own inherent rigor (36), the two opening chapters effectively describe and demonstrate some of the key issues that emerge from witch-hunt historiography.

Charles Zika’s chapter examines the notable development in witch-hunt [End Page 139] historiography since the 1970s of more sustained and sophisticated attention to images. Zika encourages historians and art historians to continue to sharpen their analysis of images by treating them not as transparent signs of social realities but rather as products of artists with context and agendas of their own. Through a wide-ranging review of scholarly texts and museum exhibits, Zika praises those who have treated images with care and specificity, and suggests several likely avenues for future work.

Raisa Maria Toivo’s chapter combines reflection on the historiography of gendered approaches to witch hunts with particular references to Finland. After noting that early feminist studies misconstrued the sex ratio of European trials and mishandled male witches, Toivo argues that to emphasize gender as a dichotomous, hierarchical relationship fails to capture the complexity of gender relations in witch hunts. Furthermore, she states that using gender as a lens through which to understand witch hunts will perpetuate a distorted view, if scholars apply what emerged from moments of strife onto the broader society. Toivo also recommends attention to the shamanic tradition, since it provided men with access to preternatural authority in ways that avoided the victimhood she sees as pervading accounts that center on patriarchal power.

The next three chapters, Marianna G. Muravyeva’s “Russian Witchcraft on Trial: Historiography and Methodology for Studying Russian Witches,” Rune Blix Hagen’s “Witchcraft and Ethnicity: A Critical Perspective on Sami Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Northern Norway,” and Gunnar...


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pp. 139-141
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