Research

Data team creates map that plots witches’ plight

A new interactive map tracks more than 3,000 Scots accused of being witches in the 16th and 17th century.

Data experts from the University Information Services Group have been building profiles of all the women and men who were accused of practicing witchcraft.

The map is built upon a landmark Edinburgh study that highlighted the plight of the many people –overwhelmingly women – who were burned at the stake, or drowned.

Witchcraft Database

The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database Project was led by Professor Julian Goodare and Dr Louise Yeoman, of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, in late 1990s and early 2000s.

Now users can move through a map of Scotland to see where the accused witches lived, as well as the towns and villages where they were detained, punished and executed.

The interactive map was built by Information Services student intern Emma Carroll, who worked for three months collating the historical information and plotting the locations on the map of Scotland.

Equate Scotland

Emma internship was organised through Equate Scotland Careerwise – an initiative that arranges paid placements in industry to women working in STEM subjects.

The task demanded a lot of detective work as many of the places recorded do not exist anymore.

Emma worked closely with the University’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, who helps staff and students develop digital skills through improving the quality of information on Wikipedia.

Joint approach

The map itself is built upon Wikidata, sister project of Wikipedia, as part of our Wikimedian in Residence partnership with Wikimedia UK, and shows the potential of engaging with open data.

The project also involved academics from Edinburgh Futures Institute, as well as University researchers working in the fields of Data Driven Innovation and Digital Humanities.

As a result of the project, around 20 women accused of witchcraft in Scotland now have their own Wikipedia page.

The map is a really effective way to connect where we are now to these stories of the past. The idea of being able to plot these on a map really brings it home. These places are near everyone.

Ewan McAndrewWikimedian in Residence, University of Edinburgh