University of Washington Seattle Cotton Mather Case Study


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Case Instructions
The take-home exam involves the Cotton Mather case. You should answer the case question
according to the principles learned from our course. You are limited to one-half page, single
space, at 12-point font. We will grant you a full page if you appropriately incorporate a set of
bullet points or table.
You may look for lessons from history although it provides marginal benefit, although there
is benefit. You may consult anyone for help except Alan and Tim.
Half of the grade is derived from your writing style, and so having watched prior take-home
submissions, we have listed our concerns.
Single Paragraph
The take-home deliverable should be clear, concise, and coherent. Avoid writing a case
summary, as it will only irritate us. Please get to your main points, or even to your solution,
quickly. The main points should be presented in a natural, logical style that supports your
1) Avoid summarizing the case study. We know the case and you lack writing space.
2) Your solution is the essay’s focus, supported by your main points.
3) Build your argument like a story or court case. How?
a) Avoid repeating the same points
b) Present a natural sequence of new points.
c) Group items within a few key points that support your solution.
d) Avoid displaying isolated little points without context.
4) Present an essay that naturally flows. How?
a) Outline your big points
b) Then rearrange to display the best flowing argument.
On a November Day in 1721, a small bomb was hurled through the window of a local
Boston Church Pastor named Cotton Mather. Attached to the explosive, which fortunately
did not detonate, was the message:
“Cotton Mather, you dog, dam you!”
This was a violent response to Reverend Mather’s promotion of his “medical invention”.
Some said it “violated the laws of God and Nature”, while others whispered it was
“witchcraft”. Boston was in the first grip of a potentially lethal epidemic, brought by a ship,
full of ill sailors that violated quarantine in the harbor to spread through Boston.
If this isn’t stopped in its tracks, then it will likely infect most of the children, killing 30+%
and blinding another 30%. Mather consulted his African slave, for tribal folk medicine. This
collegial consultation with a slave is viewed as highly strange. Mather started testing on the
children in his church, with his son as the first.
The populace falls into three camps: the largest group hate Mather and his “African voodoo”
– many would like to see him dead for past misdeeds. They also see this as a natural
consequence of God’s displeasure for Boston sin, and that to prevent God’s will is a sin and
will exacerbate the epidemic. Most physicians strongly oppose Mather. The physician who
administers Mather’s solution has gone into hiding.
A second, but much smaller group, involves desperate parents that demand Reverend
Mather and his medical solution get a fair examination.
A third group comprises most of the parents of sick kids, demanding that “something,
anything must be tried”. This also contains violent elements who want to hang some sailors
while burning their ship and the remaining crew.
This is early, pre-revolutionary North America. George Washington was not yet born. Boston
was full of hard men and women. While seemingly genteel, they are also rugged
individualists. Some are criminals, while others are religious heretics. All are very strong
willed and competent with using firearms and long knives. The colonists have already
treated nearby tribes to a healthy serving of dishonor and biological warfare…with no
Relevant Background
The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of
witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than 200
people were accused, nineteen of whom were found guilty and executed by hanging
(fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for
refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the
history of the United States.
Twelve other women had previously been executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut
during the 17th century. Despite being generally known as the Salem Witch Trials, the
preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in several towns: Salem Village (now
Danvers), Salem Town, Ipswich, and Andover. These were villages near Boston.
The man most responsible for these trials was Cotton Mather, the Pastor of Boston’s North
Church. He was a prolific writer in religion and science. He provided the intellectual and
emotional climate through his pamphlets. He later initiated the hysteria by examining some
children and validating the witchcraft epidemic. Cotton’s father, the Reverend Increase
Mather, presided over some of the Witch Burnings.
Pastor Cotton protested the judicial proceedings to determine whether someone was a
witch, saying it was unfair to the accused. The executed were disproportionately female and
“culturally different”. Nevertheless, some of the families of the executed hate Cotton.
Ironically, Harvard faculty once labeled a younger Cotton as a truly great scientist-inventor.
Your Dilemma
You sit on the United Council of Alders1. The Alders must decide how to proceed. A wrong
decision may bring violence directed towards the Alder families.
You are basically screwed if you decide wrong. Save lives the right way, and you are a hero!
Mather is determined but becoming nervously unglued. He collects data on his son and the
other kids for outcome assessments. There is also potential social redemption although
Cotton claims no regret for his diagnosis of a witchcraft epidemic. Has he truly developed a
medical miracle in record time or is this complete trash like his witchcraft writings?
You and your young fellow Alders talk about your New World class at Harvard College.
There was this strange professor who talked about “The Printing Press’ First Victim”, and the
creative destruction of the handwritten bible. He also said that the rise of the Protestant
religions was really a demonstration of “The Long Tail” applied to religion – the availability
of books and bibles created choice. He also said to “seek quirky”. He left Harvard to bring
back some advanced paper and printing tech out of Asia. Your friends laughed saying
“Everyone knows that paper and printing was invented in Europe”.
The township of Boston elected your young group because of the Harvard education. Your
Alders need a plan…or die.
To govern matters common to all 5 Boston towns (population 11,000)

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Explanation & Answer:
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Cotton Mather

influenced society

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