21H.907 | Fall 2000 | Undergraduate

Trials in History


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


This course focuses on famous political trials in history. It examines issues of evidence, interpretation, law, and society. Some questions we will ask include: What role does the trial play in public discourse? How does it crystallize certain political and social issues of the moment? How does the trial operate as drama? Are there certain conventions of trials which have emerged over time? How do legal reasoning and literary narrative or storytelling interact in these trials? What conflicts emerge in the trials between individuals and the state, the church and the state, actors in public and private arenas? How do trials contribute to (and detract) from public discourse? What role does changing technology play in trials?


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 lecture 11. As part of writing your final paper, the following due dates will also apply: statement of paper topic, lecture 3; initial bibliography, lecture 4; annotated bibliography, lecture 6.


Grading will be as follows: response papers and class discussion - 40%, leading one discussion - 10%; final paper - 50%.


Reading assignments should be completed before each lecture. The following books are required, in addition to a course study materials:

Berenson, Edward. The Trial of Madame Caillaux. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Larson, Edward J. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trials and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Marrus, Michael R. The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial 1945-46: A Documentary History. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Nino, Carlos Santiago. Radical Evil on Trial. New Haven: Yale Univ. Pr., 1998.

Pernoud, Regine. Joan of Arc: Her Story. St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

Plato. The Trial and Death of Socrates. Indiana and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1975.

Rosenthal, Bernard. Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Walzer, Michael. Regicide and Revolution. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2000