Spring 2020 Undergraduate English Courses

358:206 True Crime and Early American Literature

MA  TTH6   CAC   11974   MONESCALCHI  HC-S126

True Crime and Early American Literature

Americans were obsessed with true crime even before My Favorite Murder became a popular podcast or Forensic Files and Dateline specials dominated our television screens. The premise of this course is that the genre we now call true crime had its origins in early American writings that sought to understand the relationship between juridical and divine law, between providential design and free will, and between the sinner and the criminal. We will begin the course by reading the transcripts of the civil and church trials that led to Anne Hutchinson’s banishment from Massachusetts in 1638 as well as firsthand accounts of the 1692 Salem Witch trials. In the remainder of the course, we will read from a variety of eighteenth-century writings that recount and reflect on criminal behavior and events, including poetry that protests capital punishment, sermons delivered before criminals’ executions, and newspaper accounts of neighborhood murders. We will end the course by reading Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland (1798) and the source materials (on murderers William Beadle and James Yates) that Brown drew from when writing his novel. Students will write two short close reading reflection papers and present on a famous early American crime to the class.