This article discusses the role played by science in changing the notions about witchcraft. For almost 250 years, the idea that the march of modern science was responsible for ending the era of the witch trials has held sway in academic and popular writing on the subject. At the same time, it has become equally axiomatic that the belief system which underpinned the legal persecution of witches was itself the product of faulty scientific thinking that was widely rejected as backward-looking, medieval, or superstitious in kind. However, this overly simplistic account of the demise of witchcraft was challenged by a later generation of scholars paving the way for a new consensus that has greatly diminished the role of science in this historical process.
This chapter surveys the evolution of chemical and mechanical weapons used by terrorists between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, ranging from the diabolical contraptions of “infernal machines” to dynamite, the terrorist’s favorite explosive, invented by Alfred Nobel in the 1860s. The chapter also explores the ingenuity of terror. While anarchists and revolutionaries who used explosive chemicals are often represented as merely consumers of the latest scientific creations, the chapter argues that in fact these communities showed considerable ingenuity in devising new weapons. A brief case study of the career of Irish nationalist Robert Emmet’s rockets in the pre-dynamite era demonstrates this. The chapter concludes by considering the relationship of terror and science, and contrasts the radical political views of terrorists with their typically unchallenging acceptance of scientific authority and opinions in the nineteenth century.