Jonathan Seitz, PhD
Director of Undergraduate Studies; Associate Teaching Professor of History
Office: 5022 MacAlister
Curriculum Vitae: Download
- BA, Chemistry and History, Swarthmore College
- MA, History of Science, University of Wisconsin - Madison
- PhD, History of Science, University of Wisconsin - Madison
For me, studying history is to reach across time and space to shake hands with and to begin to get to know people who can seem completely different from us. The historical work that I find most fascinating is that which immerses us in the day-to-day culture of early modern Europeans. My first research project took me into the records of Inquisition witchcraft trials and other sources found in various libraries and archives in the city of Venice and at libraries and archives in and around the Vatican. (Yes, the life of a historian can be very hard: I had to spend several months in Italy!) These wonderfully rich records can read like reality TV set in the 1500s and 1600s, as the reader is dropped into a swirl of gossip and intrigue, of vendettas, affairs, and eavesdropping.
Through a careful reading of these trial records I showed how Venetians from across society struggled to define and to distinguish between the categories of natural and supernatural in an era of dramatic change. I showed that multiple approaches to understanding these categories existed, sometimes completing but often overlapping. Even as new, more naturalistic approaches of explaining the world expanded, they did not necessarily do so at the expense of existing worldviews. Widely shared views of nature and the supernatural proved remarkably resilient despite the upheavals in early modern science and religion. I published my findings as my first book, Witchcraft and Inquisition in Early Modern Venice (Cambridge University Press, 2011). In the course of this project I also learned a great deal about early modern magical practices. And although I know of no spell for passing exams without studying, if you would like one that lets you win at the Renaissance Venetian game of chance known as “la piria” I might have something for you.
My research for Witchcraft and Inquisition also raised questions for me about the place of healing clerics -- exorcists -- in early modern society. We know surprisingly little about who these influential individuals were and what they did on a practical level. How did they learn their skills? How did they interact with their patients? Who regulated them, and how? How did they assert their expertise in the face of skepticism -- or outright hostility -- on the part of many Catholic Church authorities? My current project, Spiritual Medicine: The Practice of Exorcism in Early Modern Europe addresses these and other questions, and has been supported by grants from the American Historical Association and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.
Undergraduates interested in the history of magic or the supernatural can contribute to a project I have put together to investigate magic and witchcraft practices closer to home -- in Pennsylvania around and after 1700. (Apply for an undergraduate research fellowship through the College of Arts and Sciences!) The classic witch-craze of Salem gets all the attention, but that’s just the somewhat misleading tip of the iceberg of early American magic. This project looks at how early modern Europeans brought their magical traditions across the Atlantic and what happened when they did.
- Witchcraft and Inquisition in Early Modern Venice. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
- Review of Christopher Mackay, The Hammer of Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum for Isis (forthcoming).
- "Aristotelismo" and "Pierre Gassendi" in Dizionario dell'Inquisizione. Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore, 2010.
- Review of Umberto Mazzone and Claudia Pancino, eds., Sortilegi amorosi, materassi a nolo e pignattini: Processi inquisitoriali del XVII secolo fra Bologna e il Salento for Gender and History vol. 22 (2010) pp. 217-218.
- "'The Root is Hidden and the Material Uncertain': The Challenges of Prosecuting Witchcraft in Early Modern Venice," Renaissance Quarterly vol. 62 (2009) pp. 102-133.
- "Foreword" to Origins of Scientific Learning: Essays on Culture and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe. Lewiston, NY: Mellen Press, 2007.
- Review of Leonardo Garzoni's Trattati della calamita (Monica Ugaglia, ed.) for Renaissance Quarterly vol. 59 (2006) pp. 1280-1281.
- Review of Thomas F. Madden, Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice for The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 36 (2005) pp. 869-870.