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The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts pres.

Professor Valerie Kivelson, the Thomas N. Tentler Collegiate Professor of History, Inaugural Lecture

Why Witchcraft & Magical Spells Give Us All the Answers to Early Modern Russian History

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Early modern Russia was an autocratic state ruled by a despotic tsar and a powerful Orthodox Church. Its population was largely illiterate. This combination of severely controlled expression and limited literacy makes it difficult to peer beyond official representations. Although harshly condemned by the authorities, magical spells, filled with dark poetry, circulated widely. These spells offer a route to understanding how people of all social standings experienced and navigated life in a radically unfree and unequal society. Through the seemingly marginal economy of witchcraft, we can see people accommodating to conditions of inequality and carving out paths to survival.

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