Frances Hill discusses with five other experts how the Salem witch hunt started, developed and after twenty executions of innocent people at last came to an end. Were local grievances at the heart of the crisis? Are there medical and psychological explanations? Was it a case of mass hysteria that got out of control?

Dr. Robert Armstrong, of Trinity University, Dublin, summarises the history of witchcraft and Dr. Ivor McGrath, of University College, Dublin, describes how exceptional the Salem witch hunt was, in coming so late in the seventeenth century, when witch accusations had become rare in both Europe and America. Mary Beth Norton, professor of history at Cornell University, suggests the Indian wars in Massachusetts prompted the first accusations of witchcraft in Salem Village, due to the New England Puritan belief that Indians worshipped the devil. Benjamin Ray, of the University of Virginia, describes the pivotal part played by Samuel Parris, the first ordained pastor of Salem Village, an extremely conservative and contentious individual, in triggering the witch hunt. Frances Hill discusses the role of Thomas Putnam and other villagers in driving on the witch hunt, by naming their enemies as witches.

In the second part of the broadcast the panel discusses the trials, spectral evidence and the cruelty of the witch hunt, especially as seen in the imprisonment of small children in shackles. And the New England Puritan striving for godliness which may have proved fertile ground for persecution to flourish.

The programme finishes with some discussion of how the trials and executions were finally brought to an end.

Frances Hill speaks at the folling times in the interview

21:46 - 26:00
34:54 - 39:22
44:00 - 45:50