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The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us

Join an award-winning law professor for an investigation into the great legal battles that shaped the course of world history.
The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 132.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! I have just completed this fascinating course. The professor who teaches this course is a law professor. Each of the cases presented is chosen to illustrate certain themes, e.g. miscarriage of justice, prominent cases, etc. The professor does have a knack for bringing out the central points of the case and trial in a succinct fashion. My only quibble is that he frequently mispronounces a word and has to repeat it. As one reviewer points ot, this is not in any sense a college level course, but I certainly learned a lot from each segment.
Date published: 2023-12-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Spellbinding but not educational If you're looking for entertaining historical narratives on the level of the History Channel, this course might be for you. But if you expect a college-level course, this definitely will not fulfill your expectations. There is no through-line, no overall theme, not one major thesis for the course and almost no connections made from one trial to the next. Therefore the listener/viewer will not come away educated on any of the themes that could have been raised, such as: where did the idea of submitting conflicts to a trial come from? Why must this always be seen against the backdrop of power relationships? How did the concept of evidence and of a judge or jury deciding someone's fate evolve through time and/or in different societies? Etc. And as others have noted, it's a pity that all the trials featured took place in Western societies. In my studies of classical Chinese, for instance, I've noticed that China definitely had trials. So it's not as if only Western countries have had judicial systems. The professor generally is well-spoken, but as I have said in other reviews, The Great Courses should be ashamed not to edit out the lecturer's speaking flubs. This makes the final product seem so less professional.
Date published: 2023-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very interesting Dr. Linder is an excellent speaker. He talks for the full 1/2 hr. without referring to notes. He has chosen a variety of interesting cases, manky somewhat esoteric. but he explains them all. unfortunately, the sound is a little muffled, but there are clear subtitles. .
Date published: 2023-05-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I'm Not Sure How to Grade This I have real trouble grading this and the three star grade is something of a cop-out. I am an active trial lawyer and, for me, the course falls between two stools. What would have interested me -- long stretches of transcript showing, for example, trial tactics and cross-examination techniques -- would probably bore the non-lawyer general learner to tears. What the course seems to be intended to do, giving informative, entertaining accounts of historically important trials over the centuries to interested laypeople, it does very well. Professor Linder is an excellent lecturer, and even if he wasn't giving me what I most wanted to know, I have nothing bad to say about him. I believe normal people will get a lot out of the course, but I'm not sure I'm qualified to speak for normal people.
Date published: 2022-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A real good job done Really kept my interest - all the way thru - would like to have had more than 24 to watch.
Date published: 2022-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative I definitely enjoyed this class. Several of the trials were well known but others obscure for the average student which was a good way to introduce the very trials. I felt the professor was extremely fair and balanced in his approach. In most cases you could not be certain of his opinions to the validity of the various trial verdicts. This made the course more interesting to allow the student to make their own assumptions in most instances.
Date published: 2022-08-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The uses and abuses of Law Trials are not only legal investigation of a case to be answered, which is the western democratic and liberal achievement, not alas emulated universally , but often show cases by which cases, hitherto neglected, ignored, or disregarded by power, can be presented to a public forum. Many of the trials with which professor Linder concerned himself were examples of the manifestation of power rather than the of forensic investigation in public. Professor Linder concerned hiself with cases that were either beacons of principle or abuses of power intended to provide victims of interests or informed by social or political morbidity. A notable exception to this were the overtly political trials such as the Rivonia Trial in South Africa. A notable exception to most of the trials consideredwere the Nuremburg Trials, and these required special treatent beyond the time available in the course but it was the trial which interested me mst because of its manifestly international ramifications and one desired ore time to investigate the entire process, the personalities , both indicted and those, like Jackson, for whom they were an assertion of Universal Law. Attention was given to Goering, and Frank, and Speer but the issues and the responsibilities of those who served the state in various capacities, their motive, excuses, and alibis but perhaps many of the principles which were at issue in ll the trials were most clearly developed in the progress of Nuremburg. One would like to have explored issues that were usually tacit but which becae explicit at Nuremburg or for example in the overtly political trial of Joan of Arc, not discussed in this series. The cases which I followed were overtly political trials and had nothing to do with law, with the patent exception of Nuremburg which tested the gamut of Law, legal structures and procedures ideals whilst the other trials were interesting; those of Giovanni Bruno, More and Socrates; were less trials than exercises in social and political convenience and authority.
Date published: 2022-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Trials by Professor Douglas Linder Absolutely a great find. Great lectures, not too long, by this very excellent professor. Interesting tidbits of history included. Highly Recommend!
Date published: 2022-04-16
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No understanding of the past is complete without an understanding of the legal battles that have shaped it. In The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us, Professor Douglas O. Linder takes you back in time to revisit history's most famous (and infamous) trials, including the Salem Witch Trials, the Scopes Monkey" Trial, the Nuremburg Trials, and the Trial of O. J. Simpson."


Douglas O. Linder

In life, we encounter a wide range of crucial issues-freedom of speech, the death penalty, and the meaning of equality. And the trials that grappled with, or failed to grapple with, these issues are often trials of enduring consequence.


University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Douglas O. Linder is the Elmer Powell Peer Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. He graduated summa cum laude from Gustavus Adolphus College and from Stanford Law School. Professor Linder has taught as a visiting professor at the University of Iowa and Indiana University School of Law.

Professor Linder has published extensively in legal journals and books on such topics as great trials, legal history, constitutional law, and the legal profession. He has served as a consultant on numerous documentary film projects and theater projects involving historic trials. In addition, Professor Linder has published reviews of movies and books focused on historic trials and has lectured or participated in panel discussions considering the significance of various historic trials across the country, both at university campuses and professional gatherings.

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, he has taught a seminar in famous trials using his own materials published on a website of his creation, the Famous Trials website. The website hosts the largest and most varied collection of original writings, images, and primary documents relating to 78 famous trials. It is the most-visited trial-related site on the Internet and has been the subject of a review in The New York Times.

Professor Linder is the coauthor of two books published by Oxford University Press, The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law and The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law. In addition, he has appeared in televised documentaries about great trials produced by HISTORY, AMC, PBS, Court TV, Discovery Networks, and A&E in addition to documentaries produced by Canadian and European production companies. He has appeared in televised interviews about great trials on CBS, CNN, Fox News, and other cable networks.

By This Professor

The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us
Liberty on Trial in America: Cases That Defined Freedom
The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us


The Trial of Socrates

01: The Trial of Socrates

After learning what makes a trial historically important, begin your survey of some of history's greatest trials with a visit to ancient Athens. It's here, in 399 B.C., that Socrates undergoes his trial for corrupting Athenians and disrespecting their gods. In the process, he lectures his jurors on the duty of seeking the truth....

36 min
The Trial of Gaius Verres

02: The Trial of Gaius Verres

Cicero's greatest desire was to save the Roman Republic. For this reason, he charged Gaius Verres, a provincial governor, with crimes against the people. Central to this insightful lecture are Cicero's five orations, the Actio Secunda, which aimed to educate the Roman public about the corruption and rot in its political system....

31 min
Three Medieval Trials

03: Three Medieval Trials

Explore medieval beliefs about justice through the lens of three strange trials from the Middle Ages. The first involves a dead pope put on trial. The second involves an accused adulterer's walk over red-hot ploughshares. The third involves a jousting battle whose victor will be vindicated as a matter of law....

31 min
The Trial of Sir Thomas More

04: The Trial of Sir Thomas More

Travel back to Westminster Hall on July 1, 1535, when Sir Thomas More stood on trial for his refusal to acknowledge King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. Discover the story of how one of England's most revered men ended up on the chopping block and why it is both important and instructive....

28 min
The Trial of Giordano Bruno

05: The Trial of Giordano Bruno

What made Giordano Bruno's ideas on natural philosophy so dangerous to 16th-century thought? Why does his execution represent a failure of the Roman Inquisition to perform its mission to admonish, not punish? What impact did this trial have on another heresy case fifteen years later: that of Galileo?...

29 min
The Salem Witchcraft Trials

06: The Salem Witchcraft Trials

According to Professor Linder, the Salem witchcraft trials illustrate the danger of drawing conclusions ahead of evidence-and of dispensing with procedural rules that can save us from rushing to judgment. Gain a greater understanding of the legal basis for a travesty that accused hundreds of people of practicing witchcraft....

32 min
The Boston Massacre Trials

07: The Boston Massacre Trials

A harbinger of the American Revolution, the Boston Massacre trials (and the reaction to the verdict) reflected the heated partisanship of the times. Central to this story is the young attorney John Adams, who paid a price for his decision to represent the accused British soldiers and their captain....

29 min
The Aaron Burr Conspiracy Trial

08: The Aaron Burr Conspiracy Trial

In great trials, can politics and justice ever be kept entirely separate? Explore this question by considering the conspiracy trial of Aaron Burr. This case, presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall, set the precedent that no one in the United States-even the president-is above the law....

31 min
The Amistad Trials

09: The Amistad Trials

Learn about the legal importance of the Amistad trials by exploring three questions they presented. First: Are the African mutineers criminals? Second: Are they property? Third: If neither, what should happen to them? The ensuing controversy, you'll learn, helped build momentum for turning public opinion in the North against slavery....

29 min
The Dakota Conflict Trials

10: The Dakota Conflict Trials

The 392 Dakota Conflict trials led to the largest mass execution in U.S. history. It also marked the end of a legal process unlike any used before or since in the nation. Consider whether or not these cases were an appropriate end to the conflict between settlers and Native Americans....

31 min
The Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy Trial

11: The Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy Trial

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln was only part of a larger conspiracy involving many men and women-eight of whom would be tried for conspiracy to murder the president and other officials. Join Professor Linder for a look at the verdicts, sentences, and procedures of the 1865 Military Commission....

31 min
The Trial of Louis Riel

12: The Trial of Louis Riel

Few of us know about the 1885 trial of Canada's Louis Riel. Yet it's important for what it reveals about tensions in Canada that exist to this day: between native and non-native, French-speaking and English-speaking peoples. It's a trial, as you'll learn, that became a turning point in Canadian politics....

32 min
The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

13: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

Old Bailey, the main courthouse in London, was the scene for a set of trials that captivated England and the literary world. Celebrity, sex, wit, political intrigue, important issues of art and morality and sexuality-learn about the role they all played in the charges against Oscar Wilde for "gross indecency."...

31 min
The Trial of Sheriff Joseph Shipp

14: The Trial of Sheriff Joseph Shipp

Go back to March 1909, when the Supreme Court assembled to do something it had never done before and would never do again: listen to closing arguments in a criminal case. Learn how Sheriff Joseph Shipp's trial impacted the act of lynching and its relationship to the rule of law....

31 min
The Leopold and Loeb Trial

15: The Leopold and Loeb Trial

In the first of two lectures involving the nation's most famous defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow, focus on a trial involving a "thrill killing" by two rich and intelligent teenagers. Central to this lecture are Darrow's impassioned efforts to save the confessed murderers from the gallows by challenging the morality of capital punishment....

30 min
The Scopes Monkey Trial

16: The Scopes Monkey Trial

Defense lawyer Clarence Darrow also made history defending high-school teacher John Scopes at 1925's famous "Monkey" Trial. Discover how the case that put the theory of evolution on trial brought to Tennessee a three-time presidential candidate, a flock of international reporters, and the battle for 1920s social mores....

31 min
The Trials of the

17: The Trials of the "Scottsboro Boys"

Examine how the legal nightmare of the "Scottsboro Boys" trials extended for decades. It launched and ended careers. It educated the public about the plight of African-Americans. It divided-then united-America's political left. And it illustrates what was wrong with America's justice system in the 1930s....

33 min
The Nuremberg Trials

18: The Nuremberg Trials

No trial, according to Professor Linder, provides a better basis for understanding the nature and causes of evil than the war crime trials in Nuremberg from 1945 to 1949. In this lecture, your focus is on the first of 12 trials, regarded by scholars as "The Trial of the Major War Criminals."...

32 min
The Alger Hiss Trial

19: The Alger Hiss Trial

Probe the far-reaching political effects of the trial of former State Department official Alger Hiss for perjury. They include: catapulting Richard Nixon to national fame; setting the stage for Joseph McCarthy's Communist-hunting; and marking the start of a conservative political movement that would put Ronald Reagan in the White House....

31 min
The Rivonia (Nelson Mandela) Trial

20: The Rivonia (Nelson Mandela) Trial

Why is the Rivonia Trial considered "the trial that changed South Africa"? Why did Nelson Mandela and his nine co-defendants seek to wage guerilla war against the South African government? How did the trial shape the future of South Africa, including Mandela's election as the country's first black president?...

31 min
The Mississippi Burning Trial

21: The Mississippi Burning Trial

Discover how the Mississippi Burning case took the nation deep into the darkness of the Ku Klux Klan and its hatred. By the end of this lecture, you'll learn how the trial would go on to change the Klan, change Mississippi, and change the course of civil rights in America....

31 min
The Trial of the Chicago Eight

22: The Trial of the Chicago Eight

It's been described as a travesty of justice. A circus. An important battle for the American people. A monumental non-event. Whatever conclusion you come to by the end of this lecture, few events better exemplify the conflict of values in the late 1960s than the trial of these eight radicals....

32 min
The McMartin Preschool Abuse Trial

23: The McMartin Preschool Abuse Trial

Professor Linder takes you inside the longest, most expensive criminal trial in American history (with a taxpayer cost of over $15 million dollars). It was also a trial that produced not a single conviction-but highlighted the dangerous problems that happen when police and prosecutors leap to conclusions....

32 min
The O. J. Simpson Trial

24: The O. J. Simpson Trial

How did the trial of O. J. Simpson come to command such media attention? What about the case caused it to be viewed differently by people of different races? How did it change the way celebrity trials are handled? Explore questions about one of the 20th century's last great trials....

34 min