If media coverage is any evidence, it is clear that legal trials capture, and have always captured, the imagination of America. Trials engage us affectively and politically by dramatizing difficult moral and social predicaments and by offering a public forum for debate and judgment. They also “perform” law in highly stylized ways that affect our sense of what law is and does. This course will explore the trial from a number of different angles: as an idea, as a legal practice, and as a modern cultural phenomenon. What does it mean to undergo a “trial”? How do various historical trial forms--trial by ordeal or by oath, for example--compare with our contemporary adversarial form? What cultural and legal trajectories have trials followed in U.S. history? What narrative and structuring roles do trials play in literature and film? How do popular renderings of trials in imaginative texts and the media compare with actual trial practice, and perhaps encourage us to sit in judgment on law itself? In what ways do well-known trials help us to tell a story about what America is, and what kind of story is it?
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Umphrey.
If Overenrolled: Upper class students will be given preference. Discussion based course.