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How do stories impact and change our view of the law? And how does our view of the law impact the stories we tell? 

President Lincoln cited Harriett Beecher Stowe’s heartbreaking portrayal of slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a catalyst for the Civil War. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee introduced concepts of systemic racism and injustice to a wide swath of society that had no experience with them. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair exposed the appalling working conditions in the meatpacking industry, shocking the public and leading to new federal food safety laws. More recently, voices that have traditionally been left out of the “classics” of literature – voices of color, of the disabled, of the LGBTQ community – are finally being more widely heard. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media also provide a platform for such individuals to tell their stories; about the Dakota Pipeline, transgender bathroom rights, and conditions on the US Mexico border, to name a few.

Stories are unlike a straight recitation of facts. Narrative frameworks engage readers emotionally, eliciting the kind of empathy that leads to change. Stories animate details, provide context and reveal the effect of laws and the manner in which they are enforced.

In this course, we will examine the role of storytelling—both historically and currently—in swaying public opinion about legal matters and the role of the law in shaping fictional narratives. We will focus particularly on the topic of justice—how in literature justice gets represented and in the law meted out.

We will also examine the importance of story in the practice of law. Clients that are understood are better served, and literature, in its portrayals of the human condition, offers unique insights in that regard. Whether in litigation, policy, or advocacy work, the legal professional’s goal is to convince people (the judge, jury, the legislature, other activists, or the general public) of something. Join us as we explore how stories can be an invaluable tool toward achieving that goal.

Course Number: LAW-40078
Credit: 2.00 unit(s)

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