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

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Judging guilt really has changed This course was so fascinating! I learned that the manner in which people's guilt or innocence is established has really changed from horrific, illogical methods to reasonably fair, evidence-based methods. It made me glad I live in this time. Professor Linder is superb. His intelligence shines through as he carefully explains each trial and why it was important. His knowledge of the subject is deep and broad and we all benefit from the extensive research he has obviously done. He is a very good presenter. I recommend this course without reservation. I think anyone would enjoy it.
Date published: 2021-02-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting The course is somewhat engaging. Time limits in-depth coverage. I do have a question: How do you leave out the trial of Jesus Christ in a course entitle "The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us"? Perhaps because he wouldn't really be qualified to address that trial?
Date published: 2021-02-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I would have liked more but... I enjoyed this lecture series, though it wasn't as meaty as I would have liked. The "lessons" in particular fell short of what I'd hope for. That said, I'm glad I bought the series. Mr.Linder is an engaging and affable instructor. I would certainly take a course with him IRL.
Date published: 2021-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating Approach to Culture and Justice! I am grateful for Professor Linder's fascinating and different approach to understanding snippets of time and the cultural framework in which these various trials occurred. I assure any doubter that this course is far from boring or from becoming bogged down in legalese. Quite the contrary. The lecturer does a great job setting the context of the chosen trial and this, by necessity (and for our pleasure), means that we are presented with the facts and personages involved, as well as the overriding social/cultural mores and fears that help account for the outcome of the proceedings. I knew of about half of these trials -- some from memory, as I am now 77 years of age -- and others only vaguely remembered as an interesting part of history. But there were surprises for me in even those I thought I remembered best. My most vivid "takeaways" from this course are these: 1) An increased respect for the challenges facing law enforcement personnel, something about which I was already concerned in these days of Black Lives Matter and some of the horrific events of recent years. 2) Heightened respect as well for the talents needed -- and endurance required -- of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and juries. Some of the trials covered in this course consumed significant periods of time, something that had to be taxing indeed. 3) A better understanding of how popular fears and accompanying pressures can shape the conduct and influence the outcome of a trial. I found the coverage of the Salem witch trials, that of the "Scottsboro Boys" (young black boys and men accused falsely of raping two white women), the McMartin Preschool abuse case, and the O.J. Simpson murder trial to be among the most fascinating in this respect. I am grateful for the opportunity to gave gained a better understanding of the evolution of "justice" -- both as a concept and as an end. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2021-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative We were engaged throughout the course. Very interesting topics.
Date published: 2020-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A truly excellent course Probably the best course I have taken to date. Fascinating details on historical trials.
Date published: 2020-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course, but ... It's a great course and I learned a lot from it. The only unsatisfied feeling I have is why two of the great trials in the world history were not included: The trial of Joan the Arc and the trial of Martin Luther.
Date published: 2020-10-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great course - except he can't read I was bothered by two things - his mispronunciation of words as he read cue cards. There were at least 10 per 30 minute course. The other thing was his mispronunciation of the word METIS - It's pronounced Meah -tea. The "S" is silent. That drove me mad. It was a great course otherwise,
Date published: 2020-10-10
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The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us
Course Trailer
The Trial of Socrates
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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 "Scottsboro Boys"
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
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.


Stanford Law School


University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

About Douglas O. Linder

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.

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