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Emotions, Conscience and Selfhood in Early Modern Witch

A public lecture by Laura Kounine (University of Sussex) at The University of Melbourne. 


Date: Thursday 21 March 2019
Time: 1–2pm
Venue: Arts West North Wing, Room 353 (Interactive Cinema Space), The University of Melbourne
Enquiries: angel.alcalde@unimelb.edu.au

The crux of a witchcraft trial was premised on the moral question of what kind of person would commit such a crime. Those on trial were asked to given an account of their 'soul', were asked to search their conscience and lay bare their heart. In the fiercely Lutheran duchy of Württemberg, the notion of 'conscience' was made to matter, and there was a paradigm that both sides — the interrogators and those put on trial — appropriated and made relevant. Ideas about the self and emotions — and therefore ideas about guilt and legal culpability — were made sense of through the prism of one's relationship with God and the Devil. In order to add depth to intellectual concepts — and teleologies — of the self, we must understand how the individual self was understood, felt and experienced. In this way, histories of the self are inextricably tied to the history of emotions.

Through an examination of two trials that took place in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Württemberg, this paper will examine the ways in which the Lutheran ideas of conscience, sin and moral choice came to bear on the ways in which these women and their interrogators battled over the identity of the witch.

Laura Kounine is Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Sussex, and was previously a research fellow at the Centre for the History of Emotions, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin. She is the co-editor of Cultures of Conflict Resolution in Early Modern Europe (2015), and of Emotions in the History of Witchcraft (2016). She was awarded a British Academy Rising Stars Engagement Award on ‘Subjectivity, Self-Narratives and the History of Emotions’ in 2017. Laura was an Early Career International Visiting Fellow at the Melbourne node of CHE in 2014, and later co-convened two CHE symposia on Witchcraft and Emotions –  at the University of Melbourne in 2015 (Media & Cultural Meanings) and at the Max Planck in Berlin in 2016 (Social Conflict and the Judicial Process).

This public lecture is presented by The University of Melbourne and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence of the History of Emotions.

Image: The Witches (1510) by Hans Baldung. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.