Skip to Content

Salem Witch Trials

3 Favorites 2 Copies (view)
Social Studies +5 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), Post-Secondary
The witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts, during the 1690s have been a blot on the history of America, a country which has since come to pride itself on the concepts of free speech and justice as well as on its religious principles. Guilt by association, unconfirmed testimony, judges blinded by their biases, and individuals determined to use the system of justice when no evidence of a crime existed. These kinds of social or political problems did not go away with the completion of those trials.
U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's relentless determination to find un-American citizens and communists in all areas of American life in the early 1950s prompted Arthur Miller to write The Crucible, a play about the Salem witch trials as an allegory to McCarthyism. The play no doubt prompted the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 to subpoena Miller for questioning, but Miller refused to cooperate when asked to identify writers who had once been communists. Richard H. Rovere calls Miller, "the leading symbol of the militant, risk-taking conscience" of that time.

Learning Goals - student will:
Understand that in 17th Century New England, people were persecuted for allegedly practicing witchcraft.
Examine the allegations and offer alternatives to witchcraft that might explain people's behaviors.
Read and comprehend Arthur Miller's, "The Crucible" to make connections to and comment on 20th Century examples of people being persecuted for allegedly being Communists during the McCarthy Era of the 1950s.

Roger Conant, 1st Settler of Salem [sculpture] / (photographed by A. B. Bogart)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Massachusetts Bay Colony House Interior

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Pine Tree Shilling, United States, 1652

National Museum of American History

Cotton Mather

National Portrait Gallery

Witch Hill, (painting)

Art Inventories Catalog, Smithsonian American Art Museums

Secale cereale L.

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Arthur Miller

National Portrait Gallery

The Crucible [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Crucible [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Crucible [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Crucible [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Crucible [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Pumpkin Papers from Whittaker Chambers

National Portrait Gallery

Ayn Rand

National Portrait Gallery

Jackie Robinson

National Portrait Gallery

Elia Kazan and Arthur Miller

National Portrait Gallery