Defining Dominion

The Discourses of Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern France and Germany
Gerhild Scholz Williams
How magic influenced people's lives and thought in early modern Europe


In this intriguing volume, Gerhild Scholz Williams explores the roles of magic and demonology in France and Germany in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. She guides the reader through a variety of texts--many of them popular and influential in their day--to illuminate how magic came to shape people's perceptions of a changing world. This comprehensive study looks at magic as an intellectual and cultural language, as an attempt to explain the world, and as a means to control and confine women, whose propensity for satanic dalliance threatened not just their own souls but the health of the larger society.

Gerhild Scholz Williams is Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Washington University, St. Louis.

Praise / Awards

  • "Its conceptual framework and dense prose make it of greatest interest to advanced students and specialists in literature and gender studies."
  • ". . . the author concentrates on the suppression of women and witches by those in power. Read from that perspective, the book becomes one of the first to shed light on a still dim subject, usually associated with theological issues. . . . This book is a thought-provoking contribution to scholarship. By developing a new theme, dominion and suppression, the author identifies patterns and developments on a much broader scale. . . . The book is well written and meticulously edited. It also includes a copious bibliography. It is essential reading."
    --French Review
  • ". . . a very interesting and challenging book. It offers new ways of thinking about early modern mentalities, their formation and their effects, and will be of particular interest to cultural historians of the early modern period."
    --German History
  • ". . . Williams has done an exemplary job of analyzing the intersection of the discourses of magic (as related to women and witchcraft), discovery, and religious diversity/dissidence to explain how the confluence of these discourses eventually 'determined who occupied society's center and who was forced to move to, or remain at, its margins.' . . . One thing that sets Defining Dominion apart from other books on witchcraft or early modern women is Williams' obvious expertise in the history of science and her focus on the discourse of magic as a vehicle for examining the evolution of gender roles and new social codes in the period 1400-1650. . . . Her expertise in the history of science is matched by her familiarity with both the French and German cultural contexts and by her painstaking historical research and archival work. Gerhild Scholz Williams is no dilettante grazing in the greener pastures of other disciplines. She has been laboring assiduously in these neighboring fields for years now, and it is breathtaking to see how all of her disparate projects have come together so elegantly articulated in this one volume. I was stunned and inspired by this book, which I regard as a model for interdisciplinary scholarship. I hope it finds the wide audience it deserves."
    --Susan L. Cocalis, German Studies Review
  • "Defining Dominion is well documented and well written. Although she focuses on specific writings, Williams touches on the major issues regarding early modern witchcraft. In particular, she needs to be commended for tying such issues to the historical context of early modern Europe. Defining Dominion should be of interest to specialists in early modern religion, culture, literature, and gender studies."
    --Richard Kyle, History: Review of New Books
  • "[A] wide-ranging, thoroughly researched study. . . ."
    --Ritta Jo Horsley, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Monatshefte, Vol 91, No 2, 1999
  • "Historians of witchcraft will benefit from the close reading of texts and the insights that a literary scholar presents."
    --Religious Studies Review
  • "Williams's study is an important contribution to the understanding of magical beliefs in early modern Europe. She convincingly demonstrates the interaction between the discourses of magic, religious dissidence, and discovery, showing how they influenced and legitimized each other, while at the same time they marginalized those who were not able to master them."
    --Stephan Maksymiuk, Seminar: A Journal of German Studies
  • ". . . an important contribution to the debate about the rise of the modern world, opening up new perspectives of how to analyze it."
    --Sixteenth Century Journal

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 248pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1999
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08619-1

Add to Cart
  • $39.95 U.S.