Fall 2015

Histories of Judgment

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-220

Moodle site: Course


Sarah Johnson (Section 01)


Although their jobs are distinct, the judge and the historian confront a number of similar questions. How, for instance, can we arrive at sound judgments about events that have occurred? What kinds of evidence should we rely upon as we do so? What should be our standard of proof? In what ways do our social and cultural contexts inform our judgments? Can we ever be certain in these judgments? In this course, we will explore various answers to these questions as we consider the similarities and differences between the roles of the judge and the historian. We will do this by studying exceptional histories of three trials—Carlo Ginzburg’s account of the heresy trial of Domenico Scandella, Natalie Zemon Davis’ account of the imposture trial of Arnaud du Tilh, and Jill Lepore’s account of the 1741 conspiracy trials of slaves and poor freemen in colonial New York—along with primary documents from each case and essays on historical methodology. Taken together, this material will help us to analyze the logics through which legal judgments were reached in the various cases, and to explore questions about legal evidence and standards of proof at different times and in different societies. It will also allow us to consider the kinds of judgments that historians can make about past societies given the primary evidence that is available to them, as well as the significance of their investigations for the present.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor S. Johnson.

If Overenrolled: priority given to LJST Majors


Attention to Writing


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2017