Jonathan Seitz, PhD

Director of Undergraduate Studies; Associate Teaching Professor of History

Jonathan Seitz

Office: 3021-B MacAlister
Phone: 215.895.0996

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

Research Interests

  • History of science
  • Italy
  • Europe


For me, studying history is to reach across time and space to shake hands with and begin to get to know people who can seem completely different from us. The historical work that I find most interesting 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 stored in various 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 nine months in Italy!) These records read rather like Jerry Springer set in the 1600s, as the reader is dropped into a swirl of Venetian gossip and intrigue, of vendettas, affairs, and eavesdropping. Careful reading of these witchcraft trials can reveal a great deal about early modern beliefs about nature and the supernatural, as well as about early modern magical practices. (No, I know of no spell for passing exams without studying. However, if you'd like one that lets you make money at the Renaissance Venetian game of chance known as “la piria” I might just have something for you.)

I wrote up my findings in a book, Witchcraft and Inquisition in Early Modern Venice, published by Cambridge University Press (2011). In it, I used the witchcraft trials to reveal how Venetians from all levels of society conceived of and distinguished between the categories of natural and supernatural, and how the different conceptions interacted in the context of the trials.

My research for Witchcraft and Inquisition also raised questions for me about the place of healing clerics--exorcists--in Venetian 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? And is there a connection between the facts that the Franciscans were highly sought after by the public as exorcists, but also seen by Church authorities as disturbingly likely to practice illicit magic? I have started to look into this topic as my next research project, and I look forward to more grubbing in the archives to answer these and other questions.

I am also working, with student help (apply for a fellowship through CoAS!), on a project exploring magic and witchcraft practices closer to home -- in Pennsylvania around 1700 and in more recent times. 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.

Selected Publications

  • 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.