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

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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative This is one the better courses offered. I have listened to about 100. Dr. Linder knows his material, presents it in an interesting way and provides useful background. I learned a great deal about these important trials, ones that have undergirded much of the foundations of our world.
Date published: 2020-09-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Like the trials course I bought the Great Trials course and it is totally fascinating. The lecturer is good and I'm learning a great deal. The only negative is that The Great Courses emails me constantly as though I need to buy a course every day. Please stop this!
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Always interesting The title of the course is somewhat misleading. First, these are not all "great trials." Some are quite obscure. And as for "world history," all but four after 1600 are in America. But aside from this caveat, they are uniformly interesting. Ten first lecture, on the trial of Socrates, goes far beyond the partisan accounts of Plato and Xenophon to explore the real issues facing Athenean jurors. And Professor Linder gives fascinating accounts of such cases as the Boston Massacre trials, the trials of Oscar Wilde, the Alger Hiss trial, and contemporary cases like the McMartin preschool abuse case and the O.J. Simpson trial. A few, like the Lincoln assassination conspiracy and Nuremberg trials, could certainly have merited more than a 30-minute lecture. But Professor Linder gives lucid presentations of the background and evidence in every case and their affects on future history. This is the second course by Professor Linder that I have viewed, and he is eloquent and interesting in each. The video version has plenty of graphic elements that add to the presentation, but I think the audio version would be satisfactory. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2020-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling and Informed An excellent eclectic review and summary of trials from Socrates to O.J. Recommended for anyone with even a tangential interest in history or jurisprudence.
Date published: 2020-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding professor Professor Linder presented the course in an engaging manner. I appreciated his inciteful analysis and fair review of the implications of the various trials.
Date published: 2020-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic course. Professor Linder is very well informed interesting and thorough. I became hooked on Great Courses after listening to Great Truals.
Date published: 2020-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation. Prof. Linder presents the material clearly, interestingly, unbiased, and thoughtful.
Date published: 2020-04-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting material Great material/VERY weak delivery Lecturer very dry
Date published: 2020-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Opportunity to Lear I have bought five separate classes to help my understanding of our historical past. All have been excellent and I would recommend to everyone. This is an easy way to learn.
Date published: 2020-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting and Well-Organized Most of these cases I was familiar with, but there were some I knew nothing about and was fascinated to learn about. The ones I was familiar with, such as Leopold and Loeb and the Mississippi Burning trials, I learned even more. The instructor was engaging and easy to listen to.
Date published: 2020-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Trials That Went Wrong, A Good Overview This is the 7th course I finished from the Great Courses. I listened to the audio version. Professor Linder has a good speaking voice, which is easy to hear and understand, without any distracting speech mannerisms. These lectures give you a chance to hear about some famous cases from the past, some which are very well known and some which are rescued from near obscurity, except to the legal scholars/close readers of history amongst us. In many of the cases you get the idea that the professor sees that there was a miscarriage of justice that resulted from the decision of the court. To his credit, Professor Linder mostly refrains from Monday morning armchair analyzing. But it is a truism that the price of justice is eternal vigilance, some of the cases presented show a very dark side of our past and leave you shaking your head about the decisions of some of these juries. They are indeed products of their times though, and Professor Linder lets the facts speak for themselves and lets you come up with your own conclusions about the injustices of the times. Each course gives you a bit of the background of the case, and some insight into how cases were resolved in that time period that is being discussed. On that count, the lecture on "Three Medieval Trials" is very interesting to show how much has changed in terms of the presentation of evidence and what exactly constituted evidence back in those days! Professor Linder also tries to tell us how the case was significant to the what was going on in the world at this time. Some other reviewers have stated that these 24 lectures lean too heavily on cases in the United States, and I agree with that, it would have been nice to hear more about jurisprudence in other parts of the world. Perhaps it is the professor's attempt to give the audience more of what they are familiar with, thinking that would appeal to them more. There are several lectures that are very fascinating, more of them towards the back end of the lectures, as perhaps it took a while for Professor Linder to hit his stride. I really enjoyed the lectures on "Oscar Wilde", "The Scottsboro Boys", "The Chicago Eight", and "O.J. Simpson". The narratives are very compelling and Professor Linder does a proficient job of relating these trials to the bigger picture. A few lectures that didn't go over well with me were "Gaius Verres", "Aaron Burr" and "Nelson Mandela". It felt like some components of the trail were not well explained or presented in an unfulfilling style. This easily could have been a much longer course, there are many famous cases that were not discussed. I see that a new course by the same professor has just been added to the Great Courses catalog "Liberty on Trial in America". The search for justice goes on!
Date published: 2020-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very engaging and Entertaining I watch these during my lunch at work. The time (about 38 minutes) is just right and he really gets into the historical background and sets the mood of the particular time as well as telling the captivating story of each trial. I would recommend for history buffs, legal interests and just people who enjoy a good story. This will help round out your understanding of the courts and how they evolved.
Date published: 2019-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really enjoyed this course. I think I bought at least one of the suggested books per trial. Each trial was well covered and left me wanting to know more of the smaller details & extra background.
Date published: 2019-10-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview - some trials more interesting As some of the negative reviews stated - most are western, with a few "world" trials. Would have benefitted if the course was 36-WORLD trials. It fulfilled the missing gaps in some of my history studies. Question to the TGC moderators: do any of our suggestions ever make a difference to the point the course is UPDATED? Or is it engraved in stone (only for marketing purposes)? If the latter, then why should we bother with this review? I realize EVERYONE cannot be pleased - but if enough people are saying the same thing, update should follow. I'm certain many of us would be GREATELY impressed (when shopping) to see the words UPDATED or REVISED
Date published: 2019-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Provided the details about famous people and trials that i have heard referenced over the years, but did not know the background info until I listened to these lectures.
Date published: 2019-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating I hope you pass this on to Professor Linder. I've been trying cases (mostly civil, some criminal) for 40 years. He brings his trials to life.I didn't realize how little I knew about my own field. The perception and courage of some of the lawyers are inspiring. The Amistad case is particularly moving.
Date published: 2019-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good variety I usually listen and view The Great Courses when I am on the treadmill at the gym( usually walk) or the elliptical . This was a fabulous course made the pain of going to gym actually enjoyable. I learned a lot and was quite surprised at some of the history involved in the cases. The lecturer made the course interesting and held my attention easily while I worked out.
Date published: 2019-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Narrates historical context, opposing interests I finished watching the video format of Professor Linder's course titled "The Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us". Although limited to a selection of 24 trials, Professor Linder makes a compelling argument for the reasons each one is included, in every case explaining what makes that particular trial important. I enjoyed that Professor Linder's analysis went beyond just stating the facts, the issue, the court's holding, and the resulting rule of law -- I found the most valuable part of his presentation was his narrative which told the story of the people behind the cases, provided historical context, and explained opposing interests. The quotations from primary sources were insightful and good launching points for interested listeners to do further research. I recommend most of these lectures not be the last thing a listener hear before going to sleep at night because so many of the cases involve disturbing fact patterns and conflicts between parties, often involving violence. The guidebook was useful, although many of the guidebook illustrations seemed to be generic stock photos of courtrooms, etc., which lacked specific relevance to the text. The guidebook also had a handful of typographical errors which didn't have much effect on understanding the intended meaning, except maybe on page 202 where there was a summary of outcomes for 18 defendants mentioned on the previous page: the text mentions 7 were convicted, 7 were acquitted, and there were 3 cases where the jury was unable to reach a verdict, which adds up to 17 -- I believe the number of acquitted should actually be 8.
Date published: 2019-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting course, lecturer could be better. What you think you know about famous trials of the past is probably wrong & this lecturer will set you straight. I found the course worthwhile, but for 24 lectures this course is overpriced. The lecturer tends to drop off his speech at the end of sentences & sometimes stumbles in his presentation. I would still recommend this course.
Date published: 2019-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Douglas Linder does a wonderful job of presenting 24 historically significant trials, most quite famous, but several not. Professor Linder has an engaging style and presents the material with great insight. Entertaining from both a historical and legal standpoint.
Date published: 2019-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent speaker. I look forward to my commute now that I have course to accompany me.
Date published: 2019-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Professor Linder's Great Trials is superb! We look for ways to explain the human condition; art, music, sports to name but a few, but trials may offering of the clearest and most disturbing picture.of we humans. I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City when I came upon an execution order signed by Lincoln ordering the execution of 40 Dakota Indians for armed rebellion against the US. I was shocked! How could Lincoln issue such an order? 303 Dakota Indians has been sentenced to death by military tribunal. Lincoln spared 263 lives. Was this an act of mercy or political judgment? Did it make a difference? Every trial presented in this course raises these and other fundamental questions that continue to vex us after 2000 years. The questions remain amazingly the same. A truly Great Course. I look forward to more from Professor Linder.
Date published: 2019-02-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a highly instructive series despite the professor's garbling of not only his words, but also of his sentences, his topic remains compelling throughout
Date published: 2019-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Trials of World History Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us was a very informative course. Trials were presented in chronologically organized sequence which allowed you to consider the evolution of the justice systems over many centuries in many cultures. Professor Linder’s clear and dramatic delivery held us captivated as the details surrounding each of the trials was skillfully revealed and the outcomes analyzed. This was a very powerful and entertaining course.
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting The professor takes you through a great number of well known trials and some you have never heard of. They are all worth hearing about. He is less focused on the law and more on the societal impact of each case. Even so, the tedium of the law shines through together with its charisma.
Date published: 2019-01-21
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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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