Choose the topics of most interest to you to follow under "My Headlines".
Watching Trials in Class
Durham, N.C. - "The Interpreter," Alice Kaplan's latest book is her third in which trials and courts play an important part. She also teaches a course on trials, in which students start with the trial of Socrates, work their way through Kafka and Camus, and conclude with a study of a contemporary trial. This year, the course is focusing on Emmett Till.
So what attracts a literature professor to trials?
"Trials are theater," Kaplan said. "In fact, there are probably more television shows, plays and movies about trials than just about anything else in our society. The trial is an enclosed world where society works out its conflicts within a specific narrative structure. You can learn something valuable about a society by studying that narrative."
Classic trials also become reference points for society, a way for us to interpret complicated contemporary issues. For example, she said, it's common for child custody cases to refer back to the Biblical story of King Solomon, which is one of the trials discussed in her course.
Her class attracts both humanities and pre-law students, which she says makes for interesting class discussions with different perspectives on courtroom workings. Last year, class members attended the Michael Peterson murder trial.
There's also a personal, family interest in courts. In an earlier book, French Lessons, Kaplan writes that as a child she went through the papers of her father, one of the prosecutors at the Nuremburg War Trials. The experience of searching through the literature of trials stayed with her, she said.
"My father died when I was very young. Going through his legal papers helped me to develop a love for doing archival research, for looking at documents and tracking down the missing pieces. Interviewing people whose stories have never been told is something that gives me enormous pleasure. I've always thought that my stamina for research -- my passion for finding what's missing -- is connected to the early loss of a parent."
© 2013 Office of News & Communications
615 Chapel Drive, Box 90563, Durham, NC 27708-0563
(919) 684-2823; After-hours phone (for reporters on deadline): (919) 812-6603