For the first year and a half of college I attended Salem State University before I transferred to UMass Amherst. During my last semester in Salem I worked at the Witch House Museum which was the home of one of the magistrates during the Salem Witchcraft Trials, Jonathan Corwin. The museum invited Professor Benjamin Ray to come speak about his new book Satan and Salem. He also spoke about his digital mapping project concerning the witchcraft trials. This was my first introduction to digital mapping as a tool for historical analysis. I remember being intrigued by these maps when I first saw them three years ago, and they put the Salem Witch Trials into a very different perspective for me. Although it is acknowledged in Salem that the accusations began in Salem Village (now Danvers) and spread to many towns, Salem is extremely possessive of this history. Through these digital maps I was able to better understand how extensive the witchcraft hysteria was and it can be argued that this event should not be referred to as the Salem Witch Trials but the Andover Witch Trials. I have not spent much time with these maps since I first encountered them three years ago and I have decided to explore them again now.
The maps are part of the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project run by the University of Virginia. Copyright 2002, the website is much older than I remember and extremely outdated. The Maps of Salem page provides a list of maps run by the project. Not all of the maps work. Map of Witchcraft Accusations February 29-March 31, 1692 began to automatically download but I received a message saying that this type of file can harm my computer. As a result it did not download and I cannot view the map. I do not know if this problem derives from the security programs that I have on my computer or if the file is corrupted and unusable. This is definitely a weak spot in this digital mapping project. An outdated, corrupted and unusable project is of service to no one, no matter how valuable the research and information happens to be. It is extremely unfortunate and indicates how important it is for digital historians to remain up to date on technology.
The maps that do work are very useful research tools. Some maps, such as Map of Salem Village in 1692, Map of Andover in 1692, and Map of Salem in 1700 were not done in the indicated years but are historical interpretations done in nineteenth and twentieth centuries by historians. They are digitized beautifully. It is easy to zoom in and see the small details of the map. Of the more modern maps, only the Regional Accusation Map works. This is the map I remember most from three years ago, and I still find it very impressive. The map is messy. It is small and one has to zoom in to read each individual town name. As a result it is difficult to see the number of accused in every town at once. The playable timeline is a very interesting feature and the user can watch how the hysteria spread throughout Massachusetts. Despite its aesthetic shortcomings, this is a very valuable map.
These maps provide no analysis and must be used in tandem with other methods of research. While the Regional Accusation Map puts historical trends into images, it does not explain why or how the hysteria spread, who was accused or who their accusers were, or why specific towns were more involved in the hysteria than others. It is unfortunate that much of this website does not work. The Salem Witch Trials in one of the most unnecessarily mythologized epochs in early American history, and projects that provide accurate and useful and sources and tools are extremely necessary and important. The digital maps can help researchers and enthusiasts better understand many aspects of the Salem Witch Trials.