English 165

Special Topics: Law and Literature in the United States

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2020 de Stefano, Jason
MW 12-1:30

Book List

Arendt, Hannah: On Revolution; Douglass, Frederick: Selected Speeches and Writings; Fuller, Margaret: Woman in the Nineteenth Century; Hamilton, Alexander et al.: The Debate on the Constitution, parts 1 and 2 (Library of America)

Other Readings and Media

Additional readings will be provided in a course reader and on bCourses.


This course will introduce students to law and literature studies by exploring the legal and literary culture of the United States from the Declaration of Independence (1776) to Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010). We will focus on issues pertaining to the aesthetics and politics of representation, personhood, private property, and, above all, interpretation. We will examine in particular how discussions and disputes about the right or best way to interpret texts has become central to American jurisprudence and politics as well as to literary study. Our approach will be both historical and theoretical and so our readings will range from transcripts of court hearings and congressional committees to contemporary literary theory and legal philosophy. The goal is to provide a combination of specific methodologies and broad historical sources that will allow students to pursue original research into problems and periods of their choosing. Central topics of discussion will be the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, the rise of corporate capitalism, and conflicts between notions of individual right and social justice. We will discuss texts by James Madison, Frederick Douglass, Margaret Fuller, Herman Melville, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, literary theorists Walter Benn Michaels and Barbara Johnson, philosophers Giorgio Agamben and Hannah Arendt, and others.

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