Great Trials That Changed History: A Judge's Perspective

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 19, 2021 - August 18, 20217/19 - 8/184 WeeksOnlineWaitlistedOnlineDennis Curran

Course Description

Truth is an absolute. Truth-finding is difficult. Some trials do not end simply with their verdict. They have a power that echoes throughout history. They have shaped and transformed the social, political and legal landscape. These trials deserve the description “great” because they serve as enduring lessons for us all on such issues as social justice, race, abuse of power, and injustice.

This course will examine fifteen of the greatest trials that have occurred across the globe in a search of the truth, from Socrates to O.J. Simpson. This journey will take us from ancient Athens to the village of Salem, Massachusetts to modern Los Angeles, all examined from the perspective of witnesses, attorneys, judges, the public and the lens of history. Students will be instructed by a former trial lawyer and Massachusetts Superior Court Justice (Ret.), Honorable Dennis J. Curran, who has presided over 450 civil and criminal trials. This course will promote and advance an understanding of the trial as a great force for social, economic and political change throughout history by building and improving skills such as critical thinking, analysis, reasoning, team collaboration, persuasive argument and advocacy; heightening student awareness of social and legal issues; and providing an educational process that fosters communication, cooperation and respect for students with diverse abilities, backgrounds and interests. Throughout this course, students will discover how the greatest trials have changed the course of history; examine whether justice was accomplished through the trial and discern the real social and political issues at play during these historic events.

By the end of this course students will have a clear understanding of the impact judicial trials have had on society - historically, politically, and economically. They will also develop or improve their public speaking skills, learn how to present compelling arguments and apply critical thinking skills in an effort to understand these events and trials from a variety of perspectives. Class discussions, individual presentations, individualized research, group projects, small class-type assignments, readings and film viewings will be used to help students meet learning objectives. Additionally, the anatomy of the trial will be examined: persuasive opening statements, compelling direct examinations, devastating cross-examinations and powerful closing arguments.

Prerequisites: The material is rich, thought-provoking and touches on the cutting edge of issues that have, and in some cases, continue to roil society. It lends itself quite naturally to students who wish to major in political science or pre-law or are simply intrigued with the great trials throughout history.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0981

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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