Book

The Trial in American Life

Robert A. Ferguson

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2007 | ISBN: 9780226243252
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226243283 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226243283.001.0001
The Trial in American Life

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In a detailed analysis that ranges from Aaron Burr to O. J. Simpson, this book traces the legal meaning and cultural implications of prominent American trials across the history of the nation. This investigation examines courtroom transcripts, newspaper accounts, and the work of such imaginative writers as Emerson, Thoreau, William Dean Howells, and E. L. Doctorow. The book shows how courtrooms are forced to cope with unresolved communal anxieties and how they sometimes make legal decisions that change the way Americans think about themselves. Burning questions control the narrative. How do such trials mushroom into major public dramas with fundamental ideas at stake? Why did outcomes that we now see as unjust enjoy such strong communal support at the time? At what point does overexposure undermine a trial's role as a legal proceeding? Ultimately, such questions lead the book to look at the issue of modern press coverage of courtrooms. While acknowledging that media accounts can skew perceptions, the book argues forcefully in favor of full television coverage of them—and it takes the Supreme Court to task for its failure to grasp the importance of this issue. Trials must be seen to be understood, but this book reminds us that we have a duty, currently ignored, to ensure that cameras serve the court rather than the media.

Keywords: American trials; courtroom transcripts; newspapers; legal decisions; communal support; press coverage; television coverage; Supreme Court

Book.  414 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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Table of Contents

Inside the Courtroom in The Trial in American Life

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The Punishing of Aaron Burr in The Trial in American Life

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Killing the Rosenbergs in The Trial in American Life

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Seeing Justice Done in The Trial in American Life

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