Editing and Analyzing the Text: The Arras Witchcraft Project


Professor Andrew Gow examines the Alberta manuscript

In 2005, Rob Desjardins, then a PhD candidate in history, and his supervisor, U of A professor Andrew Gow, discovered the little-known manuscript copy of Tinctor's treatise in Bruce Peel Special Collections

While the manuscript had been briefly described years earlier in a catalogue dedicated to private manuscript holdings, few scholars knew that this manuscript of the text existed or that it had been donated to the University of Alberta Libraries—and no one knew that it was a sister manuscript to three other princely copies of the Tinctor text held in Paris, Brussels, and Oxford.

Desjardins and Gow set out immediately to analyze their remarkable find. With the support of U of A librarians and staff and the help of several scholars and students, including Pat Dutchak and Rhonda Kronyk, they uncovered important evidence regarding its provenance and its filiation with the other texts. 

Its contents were even more remarkable; through the process of editing, translating, and critically assessing the treatise, they became aware of its importance in the genesis of witchcraft ideology in late medieval and early modern Europe.


Joined in 2012 by doctoral student François Pageau, the team resolved to edit, translate, and analyze not only the Tinctor treatise, but also the wider collection of legal, intellectual, historical, and administrative texts dedicated to the Arras witchcraft persecutions, in which the treatise played an important part. Making these texts available to scholars and students in the English-speaking world, they decided, could only benefit our understanding of the deeper roots of the early-modern witch craze. Thus the Arras Witchcraft Project was born.

The project has already borne fruit. Professor Gow has led two acclaimed seminars on the project, gaining important insights from participants (and prompting at least one student to publish on the subject). Project members have shared their findings in various conference presentations and seminars, and their work has garnered considerable media coverage—notably a detailed feature article in the Edmonton Journal and an episode on CBC Radio's scholarly documentary program Ideas.

The first volume of translations, including a fully annotated translation of Tinctor's treatise, was published in April 2016 by Pennsylvania State University Press. Titled the Arras Witch Treatises, the volume also contains the full translation of a treatise on demons and witches penned by one of the prosecutors in the Arras trials. 

The project team is also hard at work on a second volume of translations, which will include chronicles of the witchcraft persecutions, the trial records of the appeals, and the writings of princes, bishops, and secular authorities forced to respond to the disquieting events that took place in and around Arras. 

The group anticipates that the second volume will be published soon.

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