Witchcraft and Witch-Hunting in Early Modern Scotland module (HY51046)

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Module code


Through wide-ranging study of both magical beliefs and witch persecutions, this module aims to explore the role and significance of witchcraft in early modern Scotland (c.1560-c.1730). Upon completion of the module, students will have acquired a solid understanding of popular and elite understandings of witchcraft, an appreciation of why witchcraft was viewed as socio-political threat, and a comprehensive knowledge of how the authorities and society more broadly responded to the challenge of witchcraft.

Weekly topics might include:

  • The magical realm
  • The demonic pact
  • Magic, sex and gender
  • Identifying the witch
  • Trying the witch
  • Patterns of witch-hunting
  • The great witch-hunt
  • Witch-hunting after 1662
  • The growth of scepticism
  • 1736 and beyond


Coursework (100%) consisting of:

  • 50% Essay (4,000 words)
  • 20% Assessed Task (short essay of c. 1000 words)
  • 20% Assessed Task (short essay of c. 1000 words)
  • 10% Discussion Board Participation

The proposed assessment regimen links explicitly with the intended ILOs. Both the essay and the assessed tasks will facilitate the acquisition of appropriate knowledge and will deepen students’ understanding of the modules central themes. They will also offer students opportunities for both demonstrating and cultivating subject-specific skills in evidence-weighing, source criticism and argument-formation. The module discussion board, in requiring reflection on the module and, in particular, on the historiography underpinning it, will likewise assist in the development of knowledge and subject-specific skills. All three assessed elements will be submitted in writing, and will have to be completed to a strict deadline, thereby assessing students’ transferable skills in communication and self-management.

Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

Students will gain an in-depth knowledge of early modern beliefs about magic and witchcraft, as well as about the process of witch-hunting. Through detailed assessment of these two broad themes, students will acquire an appreciation of how early modern Scots defined ‘witchcraft’, how they understood it in relation to the non-magical world, why it was perceived as a threat and how they went about guarding against its influence. In so doing, students will deepen their understanding about the ordering ideals and structures of the early modern world.


Subject-specific practical and intellectual skills and attributes

Students participating in this module will be expected to read widely from a range of secondary materials. This will develop their skills in filtering large quantities of material for relevant information, weighing the quality of arguments, and locating and extracting fresh knowledge. The module will also include substantial use of primary materials, requiring students as a consequence to hone their skills in the critical analysis of original sources.


Through careful consideration of witch belief and wider responses to it, students will develop a nuanced understanding of the nature of early modern society and of the expectations, both implicit and explicit, underpinning it. Additionally, by exploring how witches were pursued and punished, students will have the opportunity to consider the processes of social control and state-building in the early modern period, and to ask what the relationship between ‘state’ and ‘society’ was during these centuries.


Transferable, employability and enterprise skills and attributes

Through completing regular reading, discussion and assignment tasks, students will hone skills in self-motivation, discipline and schedule-keeping. Discussion tasks in particular will also develop skills in attentive and courteous interaction with peers. The module’s assessment diet will help improve students’ capacity for clear written communication.


All teaching will be carried out via the VLE.  Programme materials are written by tutors with a series of assessed tasks plus final assignments.  Internet based resources will be incorporated into the module. To ensure student engagement a high degree of active participation in the Blackboard discussion boards will be expected and monitored.  The teaching resources will be supported by a structured programme of reading to extend the range of resources available to students and to deepen their knowledge and understanding of key concepts, theories and methodologies.