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Summer Session Course List

Summer 2018

Course Numbers:
        0001 - 0099: undergraduate credit only
        0100 - 0199: undergraduate or graduate
        0200 & Up: strictly graduate

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Title:   Famous Trials in U.S. History      

Course Number:      EXP 0074B
Campus: Medford/Somer.   
Room: Olin Center 107

Course Description:

O.J. Simpson. Lizzie Borden. The Salem Witch Trials. The Scopes “Monkey’ Trial. The Oklahoma City Bombing Trial. The trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. While there were great differences between the defendants themselves, the outcomes of the trials, and the periods during which they took place, all of the cases we will look at share the commonality of being defined as “great American trials” or “trials of the century”-- trials that hold a seminal place in U.S. history.  What makes these trials so resonant? Why do some garner attention so universally, while others—perhaps more interesting or sordid—do not? What role does the trial play in public discourse involving political, social and other issues of the moment? What can they teach us about the actors who participated in them, the commentators who observed them, the society and time in which they took place, and about ourselves while we discuss them? What kinds of competing narratives take place in these trials, who dictates them, and for what purpose? What conflicts emerge in these trials, and between whom? Was justice served, and what does it mean to ask that question? What role did they play in popular culture, and why?
The course premise is that these trials act as a mirror held up to society, in which is reflected the social mores and cultural trends of the time. We can learn much about society, about the tacit assumptions and underlying realities that shaped and were reflected in the trials. This concept, often referred to as the “law as mirror” school of thought, was best summarized by Oliver Wendell Holmes: “this abstraction called the Law is a magic mirror, where we see reflected not only our own lives, but the lives of all men that have been.” Trials provide us with invaluable unconscious testimony: we can glean what issues are in contention; what things are tacitly agreed upon and therefore not verbalized; what aspects of culture are in flux. Famous trials in particular are useful for the purposes of analyzing an array of historical forces: legal, literary, sociological, psychological, cultural, economic, political, and an almost-infinite number of other potential connections and dependencies. This course does not assume a background in history, law, or any related discipline—you need only have a sense of intellectual curiosity and interest.

Instructor: Ian Pilarczyk           Instructor Website

Offered in: Second session
Class Dates: Tuesday, Jul 3, 2018 to Friday, Aug 10, 2018
Day(s): TTh           Times: 1:00-4:30 PM
Credit Value: 3          Call Number:      50360

Audit Enroll Option: Yes                           
Status: Open


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