Essay about Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692, by Bernard Rosenthal

Essay about Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692, by Bernard Rosenthal

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When one evokes The Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the image that comes to most peoples minds are that of witches with pointed hats riding broomsticks. This is not helped by the current town of Salem, Massachusetts, which profits from the hundreds of thousands of tourists a year by mythologizing the trials and those who were participants. While there have been countless books, papers, essays, and dissertations done on this subject, there never seems to be a shortage in curiosity from historians on these events. Thus, we have Bernard Rosenthal's book, Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692, another entry in the historiographical landscape of the Salem Witch Trials. This book, however, is different from most that precede it in that it does not focus on one single aspect, character, or event; rather Rosenthal tells the story of Salem in 1692 as a narrative, piecing together information principally from primary documents, while commenting on others ideas and assessments. By doing so, the audience sees that there is much more to the individual stories within the trials, and chips away at the mythology that has pervaded the subject since its happening. Instead of a typical thesis, Rosenthal writes the book as he sees the events fold out through the primary documents, so the book becomes more of an account of what happened according to primary sources in 1692 rather than a retelling under a new light.
Rosenthal begins with stating why he chose to write this book when there were numerous books already published. “The more I read the original documentation, the more I realized that the story of what actually happened in 1692, as opposed to how the story has been told, would have to drive my own narration.” (p. 5) The “original docum...

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From what I could tell, Rosenthal has little if no bias throughout the book. His position as Professor and Chair of the English Department at State University of New York in Binghamton sheds light on his approach to the material. Rather than being a History professor, his English background makes him able to critique the documents and other arguments under a literary light, and therefore a new depiction of the events comes out.
Salem Story is a unique book covering the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, in that it does not focus on any single aspect. This is probably its best strength, because it allows Rosenthal to take the reader on a ride on which is powered by the primary documents. Thus, the audience is left with an almost bare boned account of the events while all of the illusions from popular culture and previous authors is left in the dust.

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