History Extension: Katya Greenup

Title of major work: The concept of witch hunts and how they’ve been used and abused over time.

“For a long time I’ve had an interest in Ancient History and how it’s possible for us to know events that happened thousands of years ago,” Katya Greenup said.

“Since I found the Year 11 Ancient History course so interesting, I figured I would give History Extension a go.

“I ended up adoring the class! It is so much fun and we’re always focusing on really interesting topics. I’d never thought about how a historian, or history producer, can influence the history they produce until now, but it all makes so much sense and it is all so engaging!” 

Katya’s Major Work, a historiographical inquiry, investigates the witch hunts carried out in 15th Century Europe, in which several thousand women were tortured and, in numerous cases, killed for making supposed deals with the Devil. 

“My essay draws data from primary sources such as Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and Daemonologie by King James VI. I also focus on modern historians and differing views between academics,” she said.

“I look both at historians who agree that women were targeted by Inquisitors, and also those who find gender to be completely irrelevant to the prosecution of witches.

“Through looking directly at the writers of history regarding the witch hunts of the 15th Century, hopefully, my readers will be able to see how one’s bias can affect one’s interpretation of sources and evidence, thus be able to come to the conclusion that the witch hunts of Early Modern Europe in a patriarchal society was another effort by men to suppress female sexuality and gain further dominance over women.”

Katya said her greatest challenge was wanting to expand her essay but being limited by the word count.

“If I had, perhaps, another thousand words or so I would have liked to expand my essay into the modern-day or the 20th and 21st Centuries. I would have liked to give a mention to McCarthyism and the Red Scare, and also how in countries such as China and India, women are still being hunted and being labelled as witches,” she said.

“People often associate the witch hunts with the medieval era but, in reality, women are being targeted right now, as can be seen in a case from a Chinese farming community where the label of “zhu” was plastered onto a number of people, most of whom were women.

“Those labelled ‘zhu’ are supposedly capable of supernatural activity, namely the poisoning of food and crops. Researchers state that they ‘favour the explanation that the stigmatisation originally arose as a mechanism to harm female competitors’.

“Once the name had arisen, the fear of the label that may be contagious might help to explain the tenacity of this cultural belief. There is a very similar case in rural India. In the Dahod District of Gujarat, the exact same accusation, ‘dakan’ – Gurajati word for witch – is being passed around to women for the exact same reason as in the Chinese farming community.”

Katya said she would have loved to explore those two topics more deeply and “explain to readers why witchcraft accusations can come from wanting to blame others for one’s own misfortune.”