Digital Mapping- Salem Witch Trials

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 Copyright 2002, the website is much older than I remember and extremely outdated.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 An outdated, corrupted and unusable project is of service to no one, no matter how valuable the research and information happens to be.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.


12 thoughts on “Digital Mapping- Salem Witch Trials

  1. I agree with comments about functionality, especially since we’ve had so many small instances of similar problems in the class so far – websites in the syllabus being lost or moved, content in archives being corrupted, etc. It seems that people often put tons of effort into compiling and creating archives, only to let them stagnate or disappear as time wears on. It could be a funding thing (I’m sure grants don’t include upkeep in perpetuity), or it could just be that people decide to move on to bigger and better things, but either way, it’s an issue.

  2. I had no idea you used to go to Salem State University! My hometown is Beverly (next door) and my grandmother worked as a printer at Salem State College for about thirty years. I also wanted to do the Salem Witch Trials but couldn’t get the maps to work for me. As one commenter said, the problem is that grants don’t provide for upkeep. However, while I was searching for a map I found one website that made upkeep a part of its agreement with other institutions. One institution had stewardship over the site for three years, and then it passed over to another, and then after that they would discuss the future of the site at a conference. For all the effort and money that goes into these resources, it seems this would be a good provision to have in more digital history projects.

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