Teaching Famous Trials

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on Teaching

Thursday, April 2, 2020, 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Crime and Violence; Legal and Constitutional; Social and Cultural


From the Salem witch trials to the People v. O. J. Simpson, the spectacle of a public tribunal determining questions of life and liberty has long captured the imagination of the country. Each scholar on this roundtable teaches a course on the theme of famous trials in American history. We will explore how famous trials courses can help students address questions about both the law and the broader social context in which legal proceedings took place.

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Douglas Linder, University of Missouri–Kansas City
Douglas O. Linder is a graduate of Stanford Law School and is the Elmer Powell Peer Professor of Law at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. He has taught as a visiting professor at the University of Iowa and Indiana University Schools of Law. The subjects of his teaching include Famous Trials, The American Jury, Constitutional Law, First Amendment Law, and Legal Professionalism. In addition to being named a UKC Trustees Fellow, Professor Linder has received his law school’s highest teaching award (twice) and its highest publishing award (three times).
For more than two decades, Professor Linder has taught a seminar in famous trials using materials published on a website of his creation, the Famous Trials website. “Famous Trials” is the Web’s largest and most visited collection of original writings, images, and primary documents relating to 79 (and counting) famous trials. The Famous Trials website, first published in 1995, has been the subject of reviews in The New York Times and the Boston Globe. Professor Linder is also is the creator of one of the Web’s most visited sites on the subject of constitutional law, “Exploring Constitutional Law.”
Professor Linder is the co-author of two books published by Oxford University Press, The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law (2014) and The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law (2010).
Professor Linder has served as a consultant or interviewee on numerous documentary film projects and theater projects involving historic trials. He has appeared in televised documentaries about great trials produced by The History Channel, AMC, PBS, Court TV, Fox, Discovery Networks, and A&E, as well as Canadian and European production companies. He has appeared in televised interviews about great trials on CBS, CNN, Fox News, and other cable networks. He has lectured or participated in panel discussions relating to various historic trials across the country, both at university campuses and professional gatherings.
Professor Linder is the author and lecturer of the course “Great Trials in World History and the Lessons They Teach Us” (2017), published by the Teaching (“Great Courses”) Company. A second course for the Teaching Company, called “Liberty on Trial: The Stories of Legal Battles That Defined Freedom in America,” is in production and is scheduled for release in 2020.
Professor Linder has published over thirty law review articles, book reviews, and book chapters, mostly relating to famous trials, constitutional history, or constitutional law.
Professor Linder is a former member of the Minnesota Bar. He enjoys tennis, curling, canoeing, hiking, and traveling. He and his wife, Cheryl, have two children, Ann and Kari.

Panelist: Andrew Porwancher, University of Oklahoma
Andrew Porwancher is the Wick Cary Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, where he teaches in a Constitutional Studies program for undergraduates. He was formerly the Alistair Horne Fellow at the University of Oxford (2013-2014), a Senior Research Fellow at Yeshiva University’s Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought (2017), the Garwood Fellow at Princeton University’s James Madison Program (2018), and a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin (2019).

His scholarship and teaching are centrally focused on legal history. Porwancher’s first book, "John Henry Wigmore and the Rules of Evidence: The Hidden Origins of Modern Law," appeared as an inaugural book of the series “Studies in Constitutional Democracy” with the University of Missouri Press in 2016 and was afforded Honorable Mention for the Scribes Book Award for Best Work of Legal Scholarship. His next monograph, "The Devil Himself: A Tale of Honor, Insanity, and the Birth of Modern America," was published by Oxford University that same year. He is now at work on his third book, "The Jewish Life of Alexander Hamilton" (under contract with Harvard University Press), which has received support from the Gilder Lehrman Institute, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the American Jewish Historical Society.

He regularly teaches a course on famous trials at Oklahoma and won the Longmire Prize for innovative teaching in 2017.

Panelist: Michael Ross, University of Maryland, College Park
Michael Ross is a Professor of History at the University of Maryland at College Park where specializes in the Civil War Era and U.S. Legal History. He is the author of two prize-winning books: "Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and Supreme Court during the Civil War Era" (LSU Press 2003) and "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era" (Oxford University Press, 2015). "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case," his most recent work, received favorable reviews in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other periodicals, was a selection of the History Book Club, and won the Kemper Williams Prize and the New Orleans Public Library Foundation Choice Award for Non-Fiction. Professor Ross has also written numerous articles in academic journals, four of which have won “best article” prizes including the Fletcher Green and Charles Ramsdell Award for the best article in the Journal of Southern History over a two year period. He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Supreme Court History, has served as the historical advisor to the United States Mint, and has twice delivered Silverman lectures at the United States Supreme Court. He holds a J.D. from the Duke University School of Law and earned a Ph.D. in History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
At the University of Maryland he teaches a course entitled “Spies, Assassins, Martyrs, and Witches: Famous Trials in American History” which enrolls 260 students each semester and regularly has a wait list of over one hundred students.

Panelist: Kimberly M. Welch, Vanderbilt University
Kim Welch is an assistant professor of history and an assistant professor of law at Vanderbilt University, where she specializes in the history of slavery and the law in the early U.S. South. She is the author of the recent book, "Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South," published in the John Hope Franklin series with the University of North Carolina Press (2018). Her research has been supported by a multi-year National Science Foundation grant and fellowships from the Newberry Library, the American Bar Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others. She is currently working on a book project examining free black moneylenders and claims to economic citizenship and a digital humanities project entitled “Mapping the Other Underground Railroad.” In 2017-19, she is a Mellon Faculty Fellow in the Digital Humanities at Vanderbilt. Her work has also appeared in Journal of the Civil War Era, the Law and History Review, the Legal History Blog, and other venues, and she serves on the editorial board of the Law & Society Review.

At Vanderbilt, she teaches an undergraduate history course entitled "Famous American Trials," which is capped at 90 students. It fills immediately and regularly has a long wait list.