Meet the Fellows: 2015 Newcombe Fellow Rochelle Rojas
Exploring the belief systems underpinning witchcraft has taken Rochelle Rojas to places she did not expect. The 2015 Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow and history Ph.D. candidate at Duke has traveled to Hollywood to act as historical consultant for the upcoming film The Last Witch Hunter. She describes how town tales preserved in the archives in the Spanish city of Navarre took her back in time:
I’ve always enjoyed a good story, thus my passion for history. When I came to the Archivo General de Navarra for the first time, I had hoped to encounter some rich tales within its trials of witchcraft, but I was unprepared for the vivid and vibrant village gossip that awaited me! Sure, it may be over four centuries old, but it has all the makings of the most colorful Mexican telenovela. The archive itself, built on the foundations of an ancient palace overlooking the Arga River, certainly helped set the scene for my daily voyages to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century village life where quotidian concerns were, in substance, not too dissimilar from our own. These archival echoes divulged who was loved, who was loathed, who loved wine too much and Mass too little, and well, who maybe “loved” a bit too much in general. Their voices also disclosed who had the unfortunate reputation of being a witch, and expressed the varied and diverse notions of witch beliefs individual villagers held. Their detailed testimonies revealed the cosmology that created and sustained their beliefs, and when the time came for me to leave the archive and return home, I felt as if I was leaving behind a world I had grown to understand and appreciate. I relished every moment of meandering through these extraordinarily rich archival conversations and I am genuinely thrilled to be writing this dissertation. I look forward to its completion and to sharing these stories and insights with others. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of gossip, even if it is slightly old?
Ms. Rojas’ dissertation explores the cosmological understandings that created and sustained witch beliefs in early modern Navarra.