Professor Alison Rowlands

School of Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies
Professor Alison Rowlands
  • Email

  • Telephone

    +44 (0) 1206 874895

  • Location

    5B.119, Colchester Campus

  • Academic support hours

    My academic support hours for Autumn Term 2023 are Wednesday 11-12 and Thursdays 12-1 (in room 5B.119).



I grew up in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, attending local state schools before going to St. Hilda's College, Oxford to study History from 1984-87. I graduated with a First Class degree, then undertook doctoral research in early modern German history at Clare College, Cambridge, under the supervision of Bob Scribner. I completed my Ph.D. thesis, Women, Gender and Power in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and its Rural Environs, 1500-c.1618, in 1995. I have been at the University of Essex since 1992 as Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, and (from 2014) Professor in European History. I have always been intrigued by the lives and actions of non-elite people in the past, especially in response to experiences of prosecution and trauma, and by the challenge of reconstructing their life-stories and understanding their agency from surviving historical records, few of which were written by them. My research has focused mainly on the exceptionally rich archive of the German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, with particular emphasis on the histories of witch-trials, magic, and gender, especially in the seventeenth century. I bring all these interests to bear in my current research, in which I investigate the biography, family history and identity of Michael Wuerth, a citizen-wheelwright from Rothenburg, who was accused of murder by witchcraft in 1663.


  • B.A. History (Honours), St Hilda's College, Oxford, 1987

  • Ph.D. in History, Clare College, Cambridge, 1995

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, 2012


University of Essex

  • Professor in early modern European history, History, University of Essex (1/9/2014 - present)

  • Head of Department, History, University of Essex (1/8/2011 - 31/7/2014)

  • Senior Lecturer in early modern European history, History, University of Essex (1/9/2003 - 31/8/2014)

  • Lecturer in early modern European history, History, University of Essex (1/9/1992 - 31/8/2003)

Research and professional activities

Research interests

The social and cultural history of early modern Germany.

I explore early modern German history through the lens provided by the former imperial Lutheran city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, with particular focus on the following themes: witchcraft, magic, gender, crime, midwifery, religion and the Reformation, prostitution, politics and governance, and the events and impact of the Thirty Years War (1618-48).

Key words: Early modern
Open to supervise

Gender in early modern Germany.

I am interested in the ways in which gender was constructed and expressed in early modern Germany, with particular focus on the city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and its rural hinterland. I am especially interested in how individuals expressed their gendered selves through words and deeds; in the impact of major events (such as war or personal trauma) on gender; and in masculinities in an urban context.

Key words: Gender
Open to supervise

Witchcraft, magic and witch-trials, especially in early modern Europe.

I am interested in early modern witch-trials, with particular emphasis on Germany, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, England, and East Anglia. I am interested in beliefs about witchcraft and how they changed and were disseminated, and also in the specific political, social, and religious circumstances that shaped the intensity of local and regional witch-trials. I am especially interested in the ways in which witch-trials and magical beliefs were gendered, and in the interactions between gender and power in witch-trial testimony given by early modern women, children and men.

Key words: Witchcraft
Open to supervise

Remembering and commemorating early modern witch-trials.

I am interested in how early modern witch-trials are remembered, commemorated and re-worked in modern culture, in a variety of formats (in literature, art, museums etc). I am interested in who undertakes commemoration; when, why and where they do this; and the role that historians play in commemorative practices. I have a particular interest in these themes in relation to the East Anglian witch-trials of 1645-7 and the St Osyth 'witch' skeletons that were dug up in Essex in 1921.

Key words: Memory
Open to supervise

Current research

A biographical study of Michael Wuerth, a wheelwright accused of witchcraft in Germany in 1663.

This project seeks to tell the life-history of Michael Wuerth, a citizen-wheelwright from the Germany city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber who was accused of murder by witchcraft in 1663. It will analyse the life of Wuerth and his family before, during and after 1663, exploring why Wuerth was accused of witchcraft, how he resisted the accusation, and what impact the trial and its aftermath had on him, his wife and their children.

The 'Kunstbuechlein' ('little book of magical arts') of Michael Wuerth.

In this project I seek to analyse a 17th-century booklet of magical arts which belonged to Michael Wuerth, a man accused of witchcraft in the German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in 1663. The booklet survives amongst the records of his 1663 trial. I aim to set the booklet in the wider context of 17th-century magical practice (especially by urban craftsmen and marksmen) and religious prohibition of magic (especially in the Lutheran context).

Conferences and presentations

Narrative resolution? Making sense of narratives, experiences, and identities in witch-trial records from early modern Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

Keynote presentation, Analyzing narratives and experience in history conference, Analyzing narratives and experience in history conference, Tampere, Finland, 31/10/2022

Exploring ‘work’ and identity in the case of wheelwright/sorcerer Michael Würth (1663)

German History Society Annual Conference (2021), German History Society Annual Conference, London, United Kingdom, 3/9/2021

Hexenprozessgeschichte - Biografie - Mikrogeschichte: Der Fall von Michael Wuerth, 1663.

Arbeitskreis interdisziplinaere Hexenforschung (AKIH) conference, Akademie der Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Germany, 20/2/2020

The Life and Times of Michael Wuerth. Writing an historical biography of a man accused of witchcraft in Germany in 1663.

Invited presentation, University of Sussex, Department of History Seminar Series, University of Sussex, 24/10/2019

Witchcraft and Magic: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives.

Invited presentation, Interdisciplinary workshop, University of Durham., University of Durham., Durham, United Kingdom, 1/5/2019

'Implementing ‘reformation(s)’: Religion and society in Lutheran Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 1520-1700', Reformation Studies Colloquium, University of Essex (2018).

Colchester, United Kingdom, 2018

The Kunstbüchlein (Little Book of Arts) of Michael Wuerth: Men and Magic in 17th-Century Lutheran Germany

German History Society annual conference, University of St Andrews, 31/8/2017

'"...wie die Kirchenordnung vollzogen werden soll..... ". Reformation und Gesellschaft in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 1558-1700 (" the Church Ordinance should be implemented..". Reformation and society in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 1558-1700), Verein Alt-Rothenburg Lecture Series, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (2016).


'Contested narratives, contesting identities: Witchcraft narratives in legal and social context in early modern Germany', Narrating Witchcraft: Agency, Discourse and Power Conference, University of Erfurt (2016).

Erfurt, Germany, 2016

'How Lutheran was witch-prosecution in early modern Rothenburg ob der Tauber? Beliefs, trials and clerical influence in a German imperial city', Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, Bruges (2016).

Bruges, Belgium, 2016

'Transformations real and imagined: Moments of becoming in witchcraft beliefs and witch-trials in early modern Germany', plenary lecture at the Moments of Becoming: Transitions and Transformations in Early Modern Europe Conference, University of Limerick (2015).

Limerick, Ireland, 2015

'When will the burning start here? Demonological texts, judicial procedure, and the spread of ideas about witchcraft in early modern Rothenburg ob der Tauber', Demons and Witches. The Impact of Demonology on European Witch-hunts Conference, University of Tromso (2014).

Tromso, Norway, 2014

'Was witch persecution in early modern Europe an atrocity?', Atrocity in Question Conference, University of Essex (2012).

Colchester, United Kingdom, 2012

'Das Rothenburger Frauenhaus im 16. Jahrhundert' (The Rothenburg brothel in the sixteenth century), Verein Alt-Rothenburg Lecture Series, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (2011).

Rothenburg, Germany, 2011

'Hexenprozesse gegen Kinder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber' (Witch-trials against children in Rothenburg ob der Tauber), Arbeitskreis interdisziplinaere Hexenforschung (AKIH) Tagung Hexenkinder, Kinderbanden, Strassenkinder, Weingarten(2010).

Weingarten, Germany, 2010

'Bones of Contention? The St Osyth witch skeletons of 1921', St Osyth Historical Society Lecture Series, St Osyth, Essex (2010).

St Osyth, United Kingdom, 2010

'Witchcraft and Witchcraft Beliefs in England during the Lifetime of Thomas Plume (1630-1704)', Annual Plume Lecture, Maldon, Essex (2010).

Maldon, United Kingdom, 2010

I give talks about the Essex and East Anglian witch-hunts of 1645-7 regularly to local audiences; for example, in the Slackspace lecture series Alternative Voices: Historical Perspectives on Witchcraft and Paganism in the East, Colchester; at the Open House Event, University of Essex; and in the Centre for East Anglian Studies lecture series at the University of East Anglia (2010); in the Historical Association Lecture Series, Chelmsford (2011); to the University of the Third Age in Southend, and at the Wivenhoe Society AGM (2012); to the Thorpe-le-Soken Allsorts group (2013); at the Sentinel Gallery, Wivenhoe (2016); and at firstsite, Colchester, and to the VCH Essex AGM, Harwich (2019).

Colchester, United Kingdom, 2010

Teaching and supervision

Current teaching responsibilities

  • Resisting Empire (HR104)

  • Witches, Witchcraft and Witch-Hunts in Early Modern Europe and New England (HR628)

  • Research Project (HR831)

  • Gender in Early Modern Europe c.1500- c.1800 (HR922)

  • Rethinking History: Approaches, Theories and Concepts (HR924)

  • Dissertation (HR931)

Previous supervision

Todd Andrew Bridges
Todd Andrew Bridges
Thesis title: The 400th Anniversary of the Lancashire Witch-Trials: Commemoration and its Meaning in 2012
Degree subject: History
Degree type: Master of Arts (by Dissertation)
Awarded date: 1/7/2016
Tiffany Rodrika Holloman
Tiffany Rodrika Holloman
Thesis title: Royal Self-Fashioning: King James Vi and His Demonology
Degree subject: History
Degree type: Master of Arts (by Dissertation)
Awarded date: 1/12/2015


Journal articles (35)

Rowlands, A., Michael Wirth’s Kunstbüchlein: Books of arts and weapons magic in a sorcery trial from seventeenth-century Germany. The English Historical Review

Rowlands, A., (2022). The Devil’s Art: Divination and Discipline in Early Modern Germany, by Jason Philip Coy. The English Historical Review. 137 (586), 931-932

Rowlands, A., (2020). The Witch-cleric Stereotype in a Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Context. German History. 38 (1), 1-23

Rowlands, A., (2020). Identity, Memory, Self-fashioning: Narratives of Non-confession in the Witch-trial of Margaretha Horn, 1652. Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft. 14 (3), 336-370

Rowlands, A., (2020). Imagining the Witch. Emotions, Gender, and Selfhood in Early Modern Germany. German History. 38 (4), 667-669

Rowlands, A., (2018). Zeiten des Teufels: Teufelsvorstellungen und Geschichtszeit in frühreformatorischen Flugschriften (1520–1526). German History. 36 (3), 440-441

Rowlands, A., (2016). Gender, Ungodly Parents and a Witch Family in Seventeenth-Century Germany. Past and Present. 232 (1), 45-86

Rowlands, A., (2016). Father confessors and clerical intervention in witch-trials in seventeenth-century Lutheran Germany: The case of Rothenburg, 1692. English Historical Review. 131 (552), 1010-1042

Rowlands, A., (2012). <i>The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village</i> (review). Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft. 7 (1), 121-124

Rowlands, A., (2012). "Ein verschlagener Geist": Vorstellungen des Teufels in den Hexenprozessen der Reichsstadt Rothenburg ob der Tauber ["A Cunning Spirit": Ways of Imagining the Devil in the Witch-Trials of the Imperial City of Rothenburg ob der Tauber]. Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte. 103, 210-236

(2011). Tryntje Helfferich, ed. and translator, The Thirty Years War: A Documentary History, Hackett Publishing Company: Indianapolis, IN, 2009; 332 pp., 1 map, 9 illus.; 9780872209398, £13.95 (pbk). European History Quarterly. 41 (4), 703-704

Rowlands, A., (2011). What did Thomas Plume think about witchcraft? Reconstructing the intellectual outlook of a little-known 17th-century English sceptic. Essex archaeology and history : the transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society. 2 (4th series), 196-206

Rowlands, A., (2009). Die “Flohfrau von Bettenfeld”: Strategien des Widerstandes in einem fränkischen Hexenprozeβ des 17. Jahrhunderts (The “Flea-Woman of Bettenfeld”: Strategies of Resistance in a Seventeenth-Century Franconian Witch-Trial). Jahrbuch für fränkische Landesforschung. 69, 173-185

Rowlands, A., (2009). Männer in Hexenprozessen. Ein historiographischer Überblick aus anglo-amerikanischer Perspektive’ (Men in Witch Trials. An Historiographical Overview from an Anglo-American Perspective). @KIH-eSkript. Interdisziplinäre Hexenforschung online 1, 2009: Männer, Magie und Hexenverfolgung (1), 23-39

Rowlands, A., (2008). 'Superstition', Magic, and Clerical Polemic in Seventeenth-Century Germany. Past and Present. 199 (Supp 3), 157-177

Rowlands, A., (2006). Contextualizing Magic and Witchcraft in the Novels of Margery Allingham: The Examples of Sweet Danger and Look to the Lady. Clues: A Journal of Detection. 23 (1), 49-60

Rowlands, A., (2005). Die Verfolgung von Zauberei und Hexerei in den fränkischen Markgraftümern im 16. Jahrhundert. By Susanne  Kleinöder‐Strobel. Spätmittelalter und Reformation, new series, volume 20. Edited by, Berndt  Hamm et al. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002. Pp. xv+332. €69.00.. The Journal of Modern History. 77 (4), 1134-1136

ROWLANDS, A., (2005). N. Schindler, Rebellion, community and custom in early modern Germany, translated by Pamela E. Selwyn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.) Pages xiv+311. £55.00. (First published in German as Widerspenstige Leute. Studien zur Volkskultur in der frühen Neuzeit (Fischer Tashenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1992).). Continuity and Change. 20 (1), 148-151

Rowlands, A., (2004). A long disenchantment. TLS - The Times Literary Supplement (5331), 3-4

Rowlands, A., (2002). The 'Little Witch Girl' of Rothenburg: a child-witch in Germany during the Thirty Years' War. History Review. 42, 27-32

Rowlands, A., (2001). Review of H. C. Erik Midelfort, 'A History of Madness in Sixteenth-Century Germany'. German History. 19 (2)

Rowlands, A., (2001). Review of Ulinka Rublack, 'The Crimes of Women in Early Modern Germany 'and Margaret L. Arnot and Cornelie Usborne (ed), 'Gender and Crime in Modern Europe'. Gender & History. 13 (1)

Rowlands, A., (2001). Witchcraft and old women in early modern Germany. Past and Present. 173 (1), 50-89

Rowlands, A., (1999). Review of Ingrid Ahrendt-Schulte, Zauberinnen in der Stadt Horn (1554-1603). Magische Kultur und Hexenverfolgung in der frühen Neuzeit (Frankfurt am Main & New York, Campus, 1997). German History. 17 (2)

Rowlands, A., Chartres, JA., Burchell, RA., Raibmon, P., Kale, M. and Burton, A., (1998). Short notices. Social History. 23 (2), 241-247

Rowlands, A., (1998). Reordering marriage and society in Reformation Germany. SOCIAL HISTORY. 23 (1), 103-104

Rowlands, A., (1998). Telling Witchcraft Stories: New Perspectives on Witchcraft and Witches in the Early Modern Period. Gender & History. 10 (2), 294-302

Rowlands, A., (1997). Fearless wives and frightened shrews: The construction of the witch in early modern Germany - Brauner,S. SOCIAL HISTORY. 22 (2), 223-225

Rowlands, A., (1997). Between poverty and pyre: Moments in the history of widowhood - Bremmer,J, vandenBosch,L. HISTORY. 82 (265), 106-107

Rowlands, A., (1997). The making of man-midwifery. Childbirth in England, 1660-1770 - Wilson,A. JOURNAL OF GENDER STUDIES. 6 (3), 326-327

Rowlands, A., (1997). Germany, a new social and economic history, vol 1, 1450-1630. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW. 112 (448), 947-948

Rowlands, A., (1997). 'In Great Secrecy': the Crime of Infanticide in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 1501-1618. German History. 15 (2), 179-199

Rowlands, A., (1995). Change achieved, change thwarted: religion and society in Reformation Europe. The Historical Journal. 38 (3), 671-678

Rowlands, A., (1994). To wear a virgin's wreath: gender and problems of conformity in early modern Germany. European Review of History. 1 (2)

Rowlands, A., (1994). To wear a virgin's wreath: Gender and problems of conformity in early modern Germany. European Review of History: Revue europeenne d'histoire. 1 (2), 227-232

Books (3)

Rowlands, A., (2013). Eine Reichsstadt ohne Hexenwahn Hexenprozesse, Gerichtspraxis und Herrschaft im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Jahrbuch des Verein Alt-Rothenburg 2013. 978-3-944109-06-0

Rowlands, A., (2009). Witchcraft and Masculinities in Early Modern Europe. Palgrave Macmillan. 023055329X. 9780230553293

Rowlands, A., (2003). Witchcraft Narratives in Germany Rothenburg, 1561-1652. Manchester University Press. 184779520X. 9781847795205

Book chapters (19)

Rowlands, A., (2020). Demonological Texts, Judicial Procedure, and the Spread of Ideas about Witchcraft in Early Modern Rothenburg ob der Tauber. In: Demonology and Witch-hunting in Early Modern Europe. Editors: Goodare, J., Voltmer, R. and Willumsen, LH., . Routledge. 208- 232. 0367440520. 9780367440527

Rowlands, A., (2019). A lutheran response to witchcraft and magic. In: The Witchcraft Reader, Third Edition. 174- 179. 9781138565401

Rowlands, A., (2018). 'Witch' finding in Manningtree, 1645. In: Stour.. Editors: Philo, R., . Estuarine Press. 20- 22. 9-780955-922657

Rowlands, A., (2017). Eine lutherische Reichsstadt ohne Hexenwahn – Rothenburg ob der Tauber von 1550 bis 1750. In: Mit dem Schwert oder festem Glauben” – Luther und die Hexen. Editors: Hirte, M., . Konrad Theiss. 176- 190. 978-3806234510

Rowlands, A., (2017). Witch-Finders, Patterns of Persecution and Communication Networks During the East Anglian Witch-Hunts of 1645-1647. In: Europäische Hexenforschung und Landesgeschichte - Methoden, Regionen, Vergleiche. Editors: Voltmer, R., . Paulinus Verlag

Rowlands, A., (2015). "…ein armes verführtes und betrogenes Kind….". Hexenprozesse gegen Kinder in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 1587-1709. Editors: Behringer, W. and Opitz-Belakhal, C., . Verlag für Regionalgeschichte. 257- 266. 978-3895349751

Rowlands, A., (2014). Eine Reichsstadt ohne “Hexenwahn”: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 1550-1750. In: Hexenwahn in Franken. Editors: Mergenthaler, M. and Klein-Pfeuffer, M., . J H Röll Verlag. 262- 275. 978-3897544529

Rowlands, A., (2013). Witchcraft and gender in early modern Europe. In: The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America. Editors: Levack, BP., . Oxford University Press,. 449- 467. 9780199578160

Rowlands, A., (2012). Witchcraft and popular religion in early modern Rothenburg Obder Tauber. In: New Perspectives on Witchcraft, Magic and Demonology: Witchcraft, Healing, and Popular Diseases. 153- 171. 0815336748. 9780815336747

Rowlands, A., (2009). Not 'the Usual Suspects'? Male Witches, Witchcraft, and Masculinities in Early Modern Europe. 1- 30. 978-0-230-55329-3

Rowlands, A., (2006). Entries on 'Age of accused witches'; 'Goedelmann, Johann Georg'; 'Thumm, Theodor'; 'Warfare'; 'Imperial Free Cities'; 'Noerdlingen, Imperial Free City'; 'Wuerzburg, Prince-Bishopric of'.. In: Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Western Tradition (4 vols.). Editors: Golden, RM., . ABC-CLIO. 1-57607-243-6

Rowlands, A., (2005). Rothenburg gegen Wuerzburg. Durchsetzung von Herrschaftsanspruechen im Hexenprozess der Margaretha Hoerber, 1627. In: Hexenverfolgung und Herrschaftspraxis. Editors: Voltmer, R., . Spee Verlag. 113- 127. 3-87760-129-4

Rowlands, A., (2003). '...wie der Poebel gemeinlich auss einer Mucken einen Elefanten zumachen pflegt...' - Ratskonsulent Friedrich Prenninger und seine Gutachten in drei Hexenprozessen im fruehneuzeitlichen Rothenburg ob der Tauber. In: Staedte, Regionen, Vergleiche. Beitraege fuer Ludwig Schnurrer zum 75. Geburtstag.. Editors: Borchardt, K. and Tittmann, E., . Kommissionsverlag Ferdinand Schoeningh. 285- 304. 3-87717-065-X

Rowlands, A., (2002). Stereotypes and statistics: Old women and accusations of witchcraft in early modern Europe. In: Power and Poverty. Old Age in the Pre-Industrial Past. Editors: Ottaway, SR., Botelho, LA. and Kittredge, K., . Greenwood Press. 167- 186. 0-313-31128-5

Rowlands, A., (2002). Monstrous deception: midwifery, fraud and gender in early modern Rothenburg ob der Tauber. In: Gender in Early Modern German History. Editors: Rublack, U., . Cambridge University Press. 71- 101. 0-521-81398-0

Rowlands, A., (2002). Eine Stadt ohne 'Hexenwahn': Hexenprozesse, Gerichtspraxis und Herrschaft im fruehneuzeitlichen Rothenburg ob der Tauber. In: Hexenprozesse und Gerichtspraxis. Editors: Eiden, H. and Voltmer, R., . Spee Verlag. 331- 347. 3-87760-128-6

Rowlands, A., (1999). The conditions of life for the masses, 1500-1618. In: Early Modern Europe. An Oxford History.. Editors: Cameron, E., . Oxford University Press. 31- 62. 0-19-820528-7

Rowlands, A., (1997). An aspect of family history in early modern Germany: bad marriages in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 1544-c.1618. In: Historia de la Mujer e Historia del Matrimonio. Editors: Cordon, MV. and Esteller, MC., . Murcia University Publications. 45- 49

Rowlands, A., (1996). Witchcraft and Popular Religion in early modern Rothenburg ob der Tauber. In: Popular Religion in Germany and Central Europe, 1400-1800. Editors: Scribner, B. and Johnson, T., . Macmillan. 101- 118. 0-333-61457-7

Conferences (1)

Rowlands, A., (2009). Witchcraft and Masculinities in Early Modern Europe Preface

+44 (0) 1206 874895


5B.119, Colchester Campus

Academic support hours:

My academic support hours for Autumn Term 2023 are Wednesday 11-12 and Thursdays 12-1 (in room 5B.119).