21H.907 | Fall 2000 | Undergraduate

Trials in History


All students will be responsible for each week’s reading and will write a weekly response paper of 2-3 pages. Students will also each co-lead one class, providing questions for discussion on that day.

There will be one final paper (15-20 pp.) which will be due on session 11. As part of writing your final paper, the following due dates will also apply: statement of paper topic, session 3; initial bibliography, session 4; annotated bibliography, session 6.

Final Paper Guide

1. Sources

  • what do historians have extant as sources in this case?
  • what are the strengths and weaknesses of those sources?
  • who are the authors of the sources?
    • do the sources represent both the defense and the prosecution?
  • what biases do the nature of the sources introduce into historians’ knowledge of the case?

2. Review of the literature

  • how have historians used the sources available to them?
  • what arguments have they made?
  • what has been their focus or frame of reference?
  • how has the frame of reference affected their arguments?

3. Your argument about the case: some possible approaches

  • legal, philosophical, or ethical issues
  • issues of evidence
    • scientific evidence
    • other kinds of material evidence
    • interpersonal evidence and testimony
  • context - particular historical issues at work at the time
  • causality
    • what gave rise to the trial?
    • what gave rise to the given outcome or outcomes?
    • what was the role of particular personalities?
    • what was the role of timing in the trial?
  • drama
    • if you were viewing the trial as a staged event, what would you notice about the ways it was conducted?
  • coverage in the press
    • who is covering this trial? Which authors and which periodicals?
    • what are their primary foci?
      • legal issues, political, moral, human interest
    • what kinds of language are the authors using?
    • in what ways do different periodicals take different views of the trial?
    • how fixed are the writers in their notions of guilt and innocence?
    • how much are legal issues covered?
  • reception, i.e., how people after the trial have looked at it
    • e.g., canonization or demonization of the main figures

4. A caution or two:

  • try to stay focused on the trial itself without getting carried away by the events leading up to it
  • you may want some kind of background info in your paper on the technical issues of venue, etc.
  • citations

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2000