Spring 2025

Testimony and Witnessing

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-368


Martha M. Umphrey (Section 01)


(ANALYTIC SEMINAR) We live in an era of disorienting disinformation and brazen prevarication, intensified by the speed of online communicative environments.  Yet discerning truth from falsity is an old problem, and one with which law has long grappled.  In this course we will examine ways in which law frames and negotiates truth-seeking via an exploration of testimony and witnessing.  Focusing particularly but not exclusively on truth-telling in trials, we will sift through legal rules governing the introduction and cross-examination of evidence (rules concerning relevance, hearsay, authentication, the right to confront witnesses, perjury, etc.).  We will also ask broader questions about the kinds of evidence law privileges (forensic, visual, written, oral, confessional), the kinds of testimony that instills confidence or anxiety (DNA, police, eyewitness, video, child and spousal testimony, re-enactment), and the testimonial problematics of memory and trauma.  More broadly still, we will situate these explorations within contexts of social subordination – Jim Crow and its legacy, genocide, sexual violence – to better understand what voices are suppressed or ignored by decisionmakers, and how law can fail in seeking the truth.  In addition to legal materials, we will draw on filmic, literary, and theoretical texts that explore and question the very capacity to “tell the truth.”

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Umphrey

How to handle overenrollment: priority will be given to LJST majors required to take this course to fulfill major requirements

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on close reading, textual and visual analysis, written work, contribution to class discussion

Course Materials


Other years: Offered in Fall 2023, Spring 2025