Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft redefined the standard for the possibilities social history offers to understand the events and people of early America. Through a painstaking and creative look at local records such as legal records, the Salem Village record book, the minister's book, and tax records Boyer and Nissenbaum discovered a long-standing pattern of contentious behavior of which the witchcraft accusations in 1692 was just one episode. Their analysis provides an invaluable insight into the social history of New England generally, and the factions of Salem Village that led to the tragic events of 1692, in particular.
Boyer and Nissenbaum's explanation for the outbreak of witchcraft accusations in Salem hinges on an understanding of the economic, political and personal issues which divided village long before 1692. At bottom, geography and history divided Salem Village and Salem Town. Situated in the interior from the bustling mercantile town of Salem, Salem Village remained primarily an