Teaching Famous Trials

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on Teaching

Saturday, April 1, 2023, 8:45 AM - 10:15 AM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Crime and Violence; Legal and Constitutional; Teaching and Pedagogy


From the Salem Witch Trials to Elizabeth Holmes, the spectacle of a tribunal determining questions of life and liberty has long captured the public imagination. It comes as little surprise, then, that courses on famous trials consistently attract high enrollments. This roundtable discussion—featuring four scholars who offer famous trials courses—will explore the novel opportunities and unique challenges of teaching the subject. From selecting trials and choosing sources to interdisciplinary connections and student research papers, this roundtable will share the benefits of insights gleaned from classroom experience.

Session Participants

Chair: Andrew Porwancher, University of Oklahoma
Andrew Porwancher serves as the Wick Cary Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma where he teaches constitutional history. He is the author of The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton (Princeton, 2021); The Devil Himself: A Tale of Honor, Insanity, and the Birth of Modern America (Oxford, 2016); and John Henry Wigmore and the Rules of Evidence: The Hidden Origins of Modern Law (Missouri, 2016).
Porwancher previously served as the Horne Fellow at Oxford, Garwood Fellow at Princeton, and May Fellow at Harvard. He also held senior research fellowships at the Straus Center at Yeshiva University and Clements Center at UT Austin. In 2017, Porwancher won the Longmire Prize for innovative teaching. He is now at work on his fourth book, Theodore Roosevelt and the Jews (Princeton).

Panelist: Doris Smith Morgan Rueda, Stanford Law School

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 associate professor of history and an associate 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.