Tituba’s Racial Geographies - SJ Zhang

February 9th, 2023

On Monday, February 6th, the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge will present "Tituba’s Racial Geographies" as part of the Cultures & Knowledge Worskshop Series. This workshop will be presented by SJ Zhang.

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Description: “Do you go through the trees or over them?” asked Tituba’s interrogators in Salem Village. Her reply: “We see nothing but are there presently.” It is true of both 1692 and the present day that an especially mobile woman might be accused of witchcraft. With an eye for Tituba’s various flights, this paper reads the geographies of Tituba’s life before, during and after the Salem, Massachusetts witchcraft trials. Both the uncleared forests of Naumkeag Territory and the heavily surveilled plantations of Barbados form the backdrop of both her trial testimony and scholarship of Salem’s famous witch-hunts. This talk reckons with these two sites as they were historically contrasted, alongside additional places Tituba is imagined to have spent time: the Parris household, the courthouse, the prison, the Caribbean colonies. Attention to Tituba’s geography begins to unpack conflicting representations of her race and ethnicity over time, helping us reckon with her legacy as a Black or Indian “witch” of interest to scholars and artists alike. What produces the desire to confirm Tituba’s race, and what is at stake in using geography to determine it?

Below is a list of further reading on the topic compiled by SJ Zhang:

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
Maryse Condé

This wild and entertaining novel expands on the true story of the West Indian slave Tituba, who was accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, arrested in 1692, and forgotten in jail until the general amnesty for witches two years later. Maryse Condé brings Tituba out of historical silence and creates for her a fictional childhood, adolescence, and old age. She turns her into what she calls "a sort of female hero, an epic heroine, like the legendary 'Nanny of the maroons, '" who, schooled in the sorcery and magical ritual of obeah, is arrested for healing members of the family that owns her.

Tituba of Salem Village
Ann Petry

Tituba, the minister's slave, gazed into the stone watering trough. She did not see her own reflection. Instead she saw a vision of herself, surrounded by angry people. The people were staring at her. Their faces showed fear. That was several years ago. It is now 1692, and there is strange talk in Salem Village. Talk of witches. Several girls have been taken with fits, and there is only one explanation: Someone in the village has been doing the devil's work. All eyes are on Tituba, the one person who can tell fortunes with cards, and who can spin a thread so fine it must be magic. Did Tituba see the future that day at the watering trough? If so, could she actually be hanged for practicing witchcraft?

Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation
Silvia Federici

Caliban and the Witch is a history of the body in the transition to capitalism. Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch-hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction. She shows how the battle against the rebel body and the conflict between body and mind are essential conditions for the development of labor power and self-ownership, two central principles of modern social organization.

In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692
Mary Beth Norton

In 1692 the people of Massachusetts were living in fear, and not solely of satanic afflictions. Horrifyingly violent Indian attacks had all but emptied the northern frontier of settlers, and many traumatized refugees--including the main accusers of witches--had fled to communities like Salem. Meanwhile the colony's leaders, defensive about their own failure to protect the frontier, pondered how God's people could be suffering at the hands of savages. Struck by the similarities between what the refugees had witnessed and what the witchcraft "victims" described, many were quick to see a vast conspiracy of the Devil (in league with the French and the Indians) threatening New England on all sides. By providing this essential context to the famous events, and by casting her net well beyond the borders of Salem itself, Norton sheds new light on one of the most perplexing and fascinating periods in our history.

The Crucible
Arthur Miller

The enduring classic drama of the Salem witch trials was inspired by the political witch-hunting activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the '50s. Though set in the 17th century, The Crucible presents issues still gnawing at modern society.