Emerson W. Baker
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A Storm of Witchcraft

Upcoming Talks
Social Media
Podcasts & Videocasts
My blog, Small Things Remembered
Posts on other blogs


Emerson Woods Baker - Upcoming Talks

After a very busy fall of giving talks, I'm taking a bit of a break this winter. But I'll be back on the road soon. Please contact me if you are interested in having me speak. Right now I only have one scheduled talk - next summer at Pemaquid, a place very near and dear to me:
Monday, July 31, 2017
7:30 PM “The New England Knight: Sir William Phips, 1651-1695” Colonial Pemaquid State Park, New Harbor, Maine.




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Social Media

Elizabeth ParrisElizabeth Parris gravestone, July 14, 1696, Danvers, MA

I tweet daily on early New England history, in particular the Salem witch trials. Follow me @EmersonWBaker

Don't tweet? My tweets are posted on Facebook. http://bourkeful.com/jen/images/facebook_follow.png
Podcasts & Videocasts  

Presentation on A Storm of Witchcraft at Minnesota Historcial Society

The Salem Witch Trials on The Public Eye with Al Vuona on WICN FM 90.5

The Salem Witch Trials on NightSide with Dan Rea on WBZ AM 10:30

Salem Access TV panel discussion on "Bewitchment in Salem: The Real Story"

Everything you Wanted to Know about Proctor's Ledge

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Small Things Remembered

Mostly Early Colonial New England History and Material Culture

Get Thee to the Witch


February 19, 2016- The Witch is a remarkable achievement. It is a chilling and intense horror movie, with stunning cinematography. Furthermore, The Witch is the most historically accurate film depiction of seventeenth century New England I have ever seen.

The Witch, subtitled “A New England Folktale” is set in 1630. The movie starts with a family leaving their plantation under threat of banishment for religious differences. William (Ralph Ineson), his pregnant wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their four children set off to carve their own pious home from the wilderness. They build a house and plant their corn but soon it becomes apparent that a witch lurks in the forest primeval that lies perilously close to their farm.

When their infant son Samuel disappears, things start to go downhill. The tension builds as white lies cease to be harmless amid the tragedy of the family’s loss. More troubles follow and soon teenaged daughter Thomasin (played by Anya Taylor-Joy in a breakout performance) is suspected of being the witch. And, by this time you are thinking this is not going to have a happy ending.

However, this seventeenth century historian was very happy with The Witch. Writer and director Robert Eggers spent almost six years working on this his first film, taking tremendous pains to get 1630 New England right. The buildings, dress and objects are spot on and are used to good effect.  William’s clumsy efforts to shoot a hare with his matchlock and Thomasin’s labored shoveling of a pile of manure with an awkward shovel of the day show difficulties and even dangers of early American life. Then there is the constant splitting of firewood, which becomes more frenzied as the tension mounts.

Small Things Remembered is the irregularly (& sometimes irreverently) produced blog of Emerson W. Baker, Professor of History at Salem State University.

Comments or questions can be posted on Twitter @EmersonWBaker or on Facebook.

Review of The Witch Introducing this Blog

The Witch - Family Prayer The Witch:
The family at prayer

The script is loyal to the spiritual and supernatural world of a Puritan family of 1630. When William’s young son Caleb asks if his baby brother Samuel is in heaven, William can give no assurances. “Was Samuel born to sin? Aye” says William, in a brief scene that captures the essence of predestination, and the constant uncertainty it placed on the Puritans.

Tired of her young sister Mercy’s unwillingness to behave and to help with chores, Thomasin tries to scare her into obedience by insisting Thomasin herself is the witch of the woods. It is a scene reminiscent of 1692, when Abigail Hobbs bragged to the neighborhood children “She had sold herself body & soul to the old boy.” And, of course both Thomasin and Abagail’s words have tragic consequences.

Eggers actually drew upon early New England ministers, including Cotton Mather and Samuel Willard’s discourses on witchcraft for his dialog. And not only do they use seventeenth-century English, since the family immigrants, they all speak with a Yorkshire accent (led by Yorkshire native Ralph Ineson).

I was fortunate enough to be at an advance screening of The Witch in Salem the night before its premier, and to be part of panel discussion afterwards, where we got to talk to Robert Eggers as well as Anya Taylor-Joy. I asked Eggers why he obsessed over such detail, when so many filmmakers do not. He stressed the importance of putting his characters as well as the audience into the scene – that is had to be authentic on order to make it become completely real. When the substantial load of lumber to build the farm showed up with modern cross-cut saw marks, he insisted that it all be re-finished with a crude reciprocal saw, giving a seventeenth-century finish.

The Witch - the twins cause trouble The Witch
Kate has trouble with the twins, as Thomasin looks on.

Eggers wants his audience to get that authentic experience, to be able to feel the mud and smell the manure, in order to draw them in. He is most successful in this, down to the effective use of natural light, and the effort to capture the sound as well as stark silence of the time. You never think this is a world that one might step out of – it is completely real. And, of course trapped in this world, the tension and horror grows, just as it would have been in the seventeenth century when community felt threatened by the devil.

It is hard to believe that this is Robert Egger’s first movie, for he has both a broad compelling vision, and the ability to execute it in haunting minute detail. It comes as no surprise that he won the 2015 US Directing Award for Drama at the Sundance Film Festival.  

 “We will conquer this wilderness,” William proudly proclaims, “it will not consume us.”  But Eggers understands that the Puritans considered the untamed forest to be a dark corner of piety. It offers rich rewards but it also is the domain of Satan and his minions. Witches, animal familiars and terrible beasts lurk in this foreboding place that will put Christian faith to the test.

When William shoots at a rabbit – missing it and burning his face – one immediately wonders if it is his lack of skill with the matchlock, or is the hare a familiar protected by Satan?  Or is it God punishing William for his sin of pride?  I confess my initial reaction to the hare came from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “that rabbit has a vicious streak a mile wide! It’s a killer!” But in The Witch you best not laugh at bunnies.

I initially watched The Witch with a bunch of Salem witch trials experts and we could only find very minor things to quibble about. The accents and the dialog are so authentic that you will need to listen carefully. Eggers admits he took a couple small liberties, like corn shocks. He used them as they are iconic of a New England harvest but ironically in 1630 New Englanders instead cut the ears and left the stalks up, as they learned from Native Americans. And, the devil’s book plays a role in the movie, though it is really only a prominent feature of witchcraft much later in Salem. Still Egger’s use of it does reflect his extensive study of Salem, along with Hartford witchcraft and such cases of affliction as the Goodwin children, and Elizabeth Knapp. But, again, this is very minor stuff indeed.

Steven King says “The Witch scared the hell out of me. And it is a real movie, tense and thought-provoking as well as visceral.” Who’s to argue with the master?  And while horror is not my favorite genre, I liked this movie a great deal. I am encouraging my students to go see it, and I am already excited about ways I might use with them. Get thee to The Witch.

The Witch Panel Discussion  
Post-screening discussion of the witch in Salem on Feb 18, with (L-R), Salem witch trials expert Richard Trask, bestselling author Brunonia Barry, star of The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy, writer and director of The Witch, Robert Eggers, and Salem State professor Emerson Baker.  
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My First Post, Wherein I Introduce This Blog

February 18, 2016 - I'm not sure if people need another blog to read. And I already have plenty to do.  So, why on earth am I doing this?  I have a few reasons.

For one, I happen to be involved in a few projects right now that I would occasionally like to be able to discuss in more detail than a 140 character tweet allows. Also, as a public historian I feel it is increasingly important for historians to present history in places and ways that are accessible and relevant to the public. Finally, it seems to me that the earliest part of early American history is not getting much attention these days, and that’s something I’d like to help change.

Every day when I read tweets and blogs from the historical community, I can’t help but feel a bit lonely. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of talented early American historians who are fully engaged on-line. Unfortunately few seem to share my passion for the seventeenth century. So if one were to search social media, you would think that not much is happening with research and scholarship before the mid-eighteenth century and the lead up to the American Revolution.  The good news is that is not true, and this blog is my effort to emphasize that point.

The situation reminds me of the scene in Animal House after Dean Wormer has closed Delta House. Otter (Tim Matheson) decides something must be done. "Now we could do it with conventional weapons that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part." To which Bluto (John Belushi) replies, "We’re just the guys to do it." Thus I begin what may be my futile quest to remind people that the seventeenth century is actually an important and vibrant part of Early America. And, as the reference to Animal House suggests, I proimse a bit of irreverence as well.

And though irreverence may creep in to this blog, so to will relevance. I'm reminded every day of the power of the past, and how it echos down the long corridors of time. My work as a member of the Gallows Hill team, confirming the exectution site of the victims of the Salem witch trials, has reinforced to me influence the past has on the present and future. I have been overwhelmed by the response of so many descendants of victims. Ten generations removed, they still care deeply about the injustices done to their ancestors. I am happy to see the healing continue in Salem almost 325 years after the executions on Gallows Hill. I promise more on that story soon.

The name and logo for this blog suggest another area of American history that is overlooked and will be highlighted here - material culture studies (including archaeology). Small Things Remembered is named in homage to the late historical archaeologist James Deetz and his remarkable book In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. First published in 1977, Deetz’s work has inspired countless scholars, opening their eyes to the potential for using material and visual culture in the study of the past.

For now at least, Small Things Remembered will be an occasional blog. I’ll post when the spirit moves me and time permits. So, I am keeping it simple, with no domain name, comments section, or subscriptions. If you have comments or want to start a discussion, I very much encourage you to post them on my Facebook page, or contact me via.Twitter @EmersonWBaker.  And, when I post new entries, I'll let people know through those same outlets. Yes, I know this is not a typical way to set up a blog. Maybe I’ll add some of those fancy features if anyone actually reads this stuff.

I'll make my first post with "real" content tomorrow. Tonight I'm going to a special advanced showing of the new movie "The Witch," which is set in Massachusetts in 1630. The movie premiers tomorrow. I've already previewed it once and I am amazed by its historical accuracy. So, tonight I hope to get more insight and a bit of insider information that I will share with you tomorrow.



Small Things Remembered is the irregularly (& sometimes irreverently) produced blog of Emerson W. Baker, Professor of History at Salem State University.

Comments or questions can be posted on Twitter @EmersonWBaker or on Facebook.

Review of The Witch Introducing this Blog

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  Posts on Other Blogs  

I make occasional contributions to other blogs:

George Burroughs, Salem's Perfect Witch -Oxford University Press Blog 8/19/14

Caught in Satan's Storm -Oxford University Press Blog 9/22/14

Piracy & Witchcraft: Salem 1692 -Seventeenth-Century Lady 2/10/15

Winter, Weather, and Witchcraft -Oxford University Press Blog 3/17/15

The Salem Witch Trials Judges: "Persons of the Best Prudence"? -Oxford University Press Blog 5/26/15

Bridget Bishop: First Victim of Salem's Gallows Hill -Oxford University Press Blog 6/9/15

Who was Giles Cory? -Oxford University Press Blog 9/19/15

Pressing Giles Cory -Oxford University Press Blog 10/20/15

A Memorial for Gallows Hill -Oxford University Press Blog 1/13/16


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