We can learn valuable lessons from campaigns that highlight the injustices of Scotland’s witch hunts, says a criminology expert from the University of Stirling.
Professor Margaret Malloch, who is about to embark on ground-breaking research into campaigns to memorialise the historical witch hunts and subsequent executions, says the results could shape contemporary concepts of justice.
Professor Malloch has won a prestigious Leverhulme Fellowship for her research project, Memorialising Injustice. It will examine the high-profile campaigning which has emerged in recent years to remember those who were persecuted as witches in post-Reformation Scotland.
More than 2500 people were executed for alleged witchcraft between 1563 and 1736, almost 85% women, with many more individuals accused and persecuted. Scotland killed considerably more people than England, despite the much smaller population, says Professor Malloch.
Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland issued formal apologies in 2022 to those who were persecuted and executed under the Witchcraft Act 1563. Today’s campaigners on the issue have continued to call for a legal pardon for those affected, while memorialisation plans include a national monument for those whose lives were destroyed, and calls to remember the injustices of the past in schools and communities.
Until now, research into the Scottish witch hunts has been largely the domain of history, anthropology and women’s studies experts. Professor Malloch said: “Restitution for historical injustice is essential for an effective justice system. Memorialising the persecuted contributes to this, but how it shapes contemporary justice is not yet clearly understood. It hasn’t really been a topic for criminologists, so the cultural criminology approach I plan to take is very appropriate for the subject of memorialisation and meaning making.”