- Imagining the Witch: Emotions, Gender, and Selfhood in Early Modern Germany by Laura Kounine
Laura Kounine's Imagining the Witch uses case studies from the Duchy of Württemberg to analyze the relationships between emotions, gender, and selfhood in early modern Europe. Challenging the work of David Sabean and Thomas Robisheaux, among others, who see early modern Germany identity as primarily communal with little awareness of individuality, Kounine argues that the people involved in the seventeenth-century witch trials had clear and diverse senses of self that contributed to complex emotional experiences. Supported by research into 250 different witchcraft cases, documents relating to which are held at the Stuttgart Hauptstaatsarchiv (and she provides a valuable chart of those cases in the appendix), Kounine combines breadth and precision, ensuring her book will become required reading for anyone studying the early modern witch trials and emotions, selfhood, and individuality more generally for early modern and modern German history.
As is to be expected from someone who has worked extensively with the ARC Centre for Excellence for the History of Emotions and the Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, Kounine well understands the classic approaches to the history of emotions found in work by Peter and Carol Stearns, Barbara Rosenwein, William Reddy, and Monique Sheer. Rather than building on these methods, she proposes a different technique that, drawing on the Listening Guide (14–16), involves four stages of analysis and four different readings of a text that reveal the various layers of meaning, and the various human relationships, that inform self-narratives. For Kounine, this allows the scholar to ask how witches individually organize their subjective experience. While this technique could work for many records, it is particularly effective for Württemberg's witch trials. As a "ritual of conflict," witch trials by their very nature highlight tensions in communal identities and the individual testimonies and, when read carefully, demonstrate the autonomy that the accused, accusers, witnesses, and even judges could have. By dividing her book into a series of case studies of well-documented seventeenth-century trials, Kounine demonstrates how witches articulated the concepts of Sinn (mind, sense, understanding) and Gewissen (conscience, personal knowledge) to express personal senses of responsibility and varied emotional states. In the process, she convincingly argues in both chapters 2 and 3 that early modern Germans had an embodied sense of subjectivity: they conceived of "the individual as divided between an inner and outer self" (76), and the importance of conscience in Lutheran piety reinforced and [End Page 587] reflected these ideas. As such, Kounine provides rich and useful descriptions of the fluidity in personhood and emotions in early modern Württemberg.
Kounine is well aware that, for anyone interested in the early modern witch trials, emotions, selfhood, and gender must play a central role in analysis. As with her treatment of individuality and identity, she is both indebted to and willing to challenge leaders in the field, in this case, Diane Purkiss and Lyndal Roper. Her summary of their conclusions is fair and her revisions are convincing. Using her method of close reading rather than psychoanalysis, Kounine immediately notes how the existence of male witches complicates claims about witch trials and how the emotions found in them were tied to fears of the female body and its transformations (menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause). Rather than seeing, for example, men who are "inconstant" as feminized, Kounine shows how such emotional states and concomitant actions fit into a more complex concept of manhood. Throughout Imagining the Witch, she provides dramatic examples of both men and women expressing passion, love, confusion, sorrow, and confidence. In the process, she is clear that, while a binary approach may have been prevalent in more theoretical texts and "church ideals," in the actual trials the "gendering of witchcraft was more fluid than many historians have claimed" (69, 120). One of the reasons for this was the fluidity and individuality of the emotional world of accused...