Kornelia Tancheva, co-curator of the exhibition, said the purpose was to show what witch-hunting actually meant in the original context and how it was reinterpreted in popular culture.
In her opinion, the broader significance of the exhibit is its connection to the modern day.
“There are a lot of accusations of witch-hunting in our present time, and it’s really interesting to see how anybody who feels that they are wrongfully persecuted for political, social, religious or whatever reasons, employs the trope of witch-hunting,” she said.
Anne Kenney, the other co-curator, said that the persecution of witches reveals a theme of scapegoating that is relevant in many other contexts.
“When you want to blame others for things, you blame it on something that is beyond your control, and the powerful become the victims is a very interesting twist,” she said.
The collection was started by Cornell’s very own cofounder A.D. White, who collected rare books and manuscripts. Since then, the collection has grown dramatically. The popular culture portion, most notably, was started in 2012, Tancheva said.
“It’s not just a single, finished collection of material, it’s something that’s very much alive and we continue to add to it,” said Anne Sauer, director of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.
“This is the best witchcraft collection in the country,” Tancheva said.