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Critical Thinking Unit 1 Question B Burning Times

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Part of a set of free teaching resources called "Encouraging Critical Thinking Online" by Meriel Patrick of Oxford University, written for the Intute Virtual Training Suite <http: />

Part of a set of free teaching resources called "Encouraging Critical Thinking Online" by Meriel Patrick of Oxford University, written for the Intute Virtual Training Suite <http: />


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  • 1. Encouraging Critical Thinking Online Unit 1 Checking Facts and Gathering Opinions
  • 2. When and what were the ‘Burning Times’? How many people died as a result? • Find a selection of websites that address this question • Record your search strategy and what you find on the worksheet • Comment on any notable features of the sites or answers you discover
  • 3. When and what were the ‘Burning Times’? • The phrase refers to the persecution of people accused of witchcraft in the early modern period (ca. 1450-1700) – A Google search for define:“Burning Times” produces a range of definitions, including this glossary
  • 4. When and what were the ‘Burning Times’? • However: – In England and America, most people convicted of witchcraft were hanged – In Scotland and on the continent, burning was more common, but victims were rarely burnt alive – they were usually executed by other means first
  • 5. When and what were the ‘Burning Times’? • Many academics prefer to avoid the term – Instead, more neutral terms such as ‘early modern persecution of witches’ or ‘witch hunts’ are preferred – But the term is still in frequent use in the neo-Pagan community
  • 6. How many people died as a result? • Some popular estimates are as high as nine million • Most scholarly investigations put the figure at a few tens of thousands – Many websites reflect the scholarly research, but there are also sites which still give inflated figures
  • 7. Example websites giving high estimates • The website Witch Prickers suggests “a maximum estimate of 13 million dead and a minimum estimate of 4 million” • Wiccan Terms and Definitions and the Wiccan Dictionary both suggest nine million
  • 8. Example websites giving lower estimates • Religious Tolerance.org suggests between 50,000 and 100,000 • The article ‘Falsehoods of the Burning Times’ suggests 60,000 • Wicca: For the Rest of Us suggests between 40,000 and 100,000
  • 9. Compare and contrast • Look at the example sites and consider: – Other than in the figures they give, how do these sites differ? – Who wrote these sites? What are their credentials? – Are sources/references given?
  • 10. Compare and contrast • There is a significant difference in tone – Articles quoting higher numbers often use more emotive language – Those giving lower numbers are frequently couched as attempts to set the record straight
  • 11. Compare and contrast • There may also be a marked difference in the picture painted – Sites giving higher numbers are more likely to identify the victims as Pagans or followers of ‘the Old Religion’ – The Catholic Church is more likely to be blamed
  • 12. Compare and contrast • However, sites giving lower estimates are not immune from error – For example, Religious Tolerance.org implies that alleged witches were routinely burned alive
  • 13. Compare and contrast • Sites with lower estimates more frequently give information about the author – From Religious Tolerance.org – From Wicca: For the Rest of Us • But this isn’t universally the case
  • 14. Compare and contrast • Sites on this topic are frequently written by people with a keen personal interest rather than an academic background in the area • The occasional source is listed, but full references are rarely given
  • 15. Alternative search strategies • Search using terms favoured by academics – Phrases like “witch hunt” and “ witch craze” produce slightly different results – Some more academic sites – e.g. The Witch Hunts, by Prof. Brian A. Pavlac – but still a fairly high proportion of non-scholarly material
  • 16. Alternative search strategies • Use more specific search terms – Phrases like “witch hunt scholarship” or “witch hunt scholarly research” produce some useful hits – But not all the material is helpful: some is irrelevant, some only suited to in- depth research, and some requires subscription
  • 17. Alternative search strategies • Consult a gateway – An academic gateway site such as Intute offers hand-selected resources – Searches give fewer results, but they’re more likely to be what you’re looking for
  • 18. Alternative search strategies • Searching Intute for “Burning Times”, ‘ witch hunt’, or ‘witch craze’ gives a small number of (mostly) relevant results • A description of each site aids the process of determining what’s most useful • Also offered are additional features such as Limelight articles
  • 19. Alternative search strategies • The hits include Jenny Gibbons’s informative essay ‘Recent Developments in the Study of the Grea • Gives the author’s credentials and mentions her sources (though still lacks detailed references)
  • 20. Summary - key things to note • Popular and scholarly answers may vary widely • It’s useful to consult a variety of sources • Checking where the information given is drawn from is also wise
  • 21. Why might we find conflicting answers to a question? • There may be real uncertainty about the answer • Authorities may disagree • There may be multiple ways of interpreting a question
  • 22. Why might we find conflicting answers to a question? • Some sources may be more up to date than others • Answers may vary in precision • Some sources may simply be wrong
  • 23. Questions to ask when assessing sources • Who is the author? – An individual or an institution? – What are the author’s credentials? • Is this a scholarly resource, or a more informal one? • How up to date is this source?
  • 24. Questions to ask when assessing sources • Are there reasons to doubt the reliability of this source? – Does it include information I know to be false? – Does it contradict itself or use poor reasoning? – Is it biased towards a particular view?
  • 25. Questions to ask when assessing sources • Is the information provided confirmed by other sources? – Are references provided? – Do other websites agree? (A major advantage of the Web is that many sources can be compared quickly and easily.)
  • 26. Remember the three Ws • WHO wrote this site? – Is the author a trustworthy source? • WHEN was it written? – Is it up to date? • WHY was it written? – Does the author have an axe to grind?
  • 27. This slideshow is part of Encouraging Critical Thinking Online, a set of free teaching resources designed to develop students’ analytic abilities, using the Web as source material. For the full set, please visit Intute Training: http://www.intute.ac.uk/training/

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