February 25, 2010

Professor to Discuss Witch Trials on New NBC Show

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After months of silence, Prof. Mary Beth Norton, history, revealed her best kept secret: she will be helping actress Sarah Jessica Parker discover Parker’s family history on NBC’s new series, Who Do You Think You Are? The show is set to air next Friday.

Norton, an expert on the Salem Witch Trials and other matters of early American history, was brought onto the show as the researchers working on Sarah Jessica Parker’s episode discovered her link to the infamous witch-hunt.

“I was contacted by the show’s researchers in 2008 because of the recent publication of my book on the Salem Trials,” said Norton, who recently published In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692.

The show, which is an adaptation of a British series, “will lead celebrities on a journey of self-discovery as they unearth their family trees that reveal surprising, inspiring and even tragic stories that are often linked to crucial events in American history,” NBC said in a press release.

The series, consisting of seven episodes and produced by “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow, will feature other celebrities including Matthew Broderick, Susan Sarandon and Brooke Shields.

After meeting with the show’s researchers and producers, Norton, who at the time was on leave in Los Angeles, traveled to Salem with the production team in January 2009. In Salem, she met with Parker and shot the on-scene footage scheduled to appear in the upcoming show.

“Working with Sarah Jessica Parker was extremely fun,” Norton said. “She was very nice and interested in the historical background of the trials.”

In fact, it was Norton herself who first revealed to Parker the facts about her “witchy” ancestor while they were shooting at the Rebecca Nurse house — the only standing home of any of the women executed for witchcraft.

“I was kind of surprised that the producers did not give me any specific information about how to present Sarah Jessica Parker with the information about her past,” Norton said. “They left it entirely up to me [regarding] how to deal with the moment of revelation.”

Although Norton wished not to reveal any specifics about the historic findings, she said that Parker reacted very emotionally to the discovery.

“I know [Parker] did not know about her background,” she said.

For Norton, the experience of participating in the show was fun and gratifying. Over the past year, her friends could not stop asking her to reveal details about her role in the series, she said. But now, with the series premiere just around the corner, Norton said “she is free to talk.”

Nicole Maskiell grad, an advisee of Norton’s, is thrilled about her professor’s television appearance.

“Nowadays, important historical moments, such as Salem’s witch craze, have become the province of ghost stories,” Maskiell said. “This show will help to illuminate just how close our links to the past really are in an engaging and informative manner.”

“This whole new initiative of a mainstream cable channel bringing history and academic personalities to ‘prime time’ is quite timely and helps to shape the national dialogue on the ways our shared history informs the experience of life here and now,” Maskiell added.

Norton humorously said that she hopes her TV appearance “will spike the sell of her books in Amazon.”

Norton will help reveal Parker’s past on NBC at 8 p.m. on March 5.

Original Author: Patricio Martinez