Intolerance - Social Studies - Connect

Analyzing Intolerance and Fear through Primary Source Materials

The Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project website is an excellent source of information about this series of events in American history. This lesson is designed to engage students in the use of primary source documents, such as maps, court records, personal letters, and personal narratives.

  1. Students may begin to explore and can research particular individuals involved in the trials by clicking on “Documents and Transcriptions” at the top of the website and then clicking “People.” Categories have been developed of those who were “Executed,” “Died in Jail,” “Officials,” “Trial Critics,” “Afflicted’ Girls,” and “Defenders of the Accused” among others. From here students can examine the narratives of the people involved, their station/office/profession (socio-economic standing) in Salem, as well as find links to their trial transcripts.
  2. Students may begin to recognize a pattern in who was accused in the early stages of the epidemic as it progressed throughout Salem and neighboring towns. One way to see how this pattern developed is to examine one of the maps. From the Main/Home page, click on “Maps,” and then find the “Province of Mass Bay 1692/Regional Accusations Map,” the “Province of Mass Bay 1692/Township Accusations Map,” or the “Map of Witchcraft Accusations, February 29-March 31 1692.” This map is active and shows the literal growth and spread of the accusations much like a disease epidemic.
      • Thinking about how the accusations appear to spread and why: What, if anything, might have prevented it or slowed its progression?
      • Thinking about the characteristics of the people accused and hanged (or those who died in jail) in Salem:
      • What did they have in common?
      • Why were they targeted?
      • Was there any gender bias in the accusations?
      • What about children? What were their roles in the trials?
      • How did one’s profession or wealth factor into their involvement in the trials?
      • Which individuals were never targeted?
      • How did the accused defend themselves?
      • Why were those accused almost required to become an informant?
      • Thinking about playing the game Enemy Within, and how your personal biases influenced who you chose as the “enemy”, do you think the behaviors in Salem are evident in the world today? Where have you seen or experienced this behavior?
  3. Thinking about the game when you and your classmates were being killed and you faced increasing suspicions of each other, what emotions were you feeling? In what way, might those feelings be similar to the feelings in Salem and the neighboring towns?