Four Trials That Changed History

Login to Watch  

Duration 00:54:40

Amherst College

Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He has written, co-written, or edited more than ninety books in the fields of law and political science. Professor Sarat has received the Stan Wheeler Award for his excellence as a teacher and mentor, awarded by the Law and Society Association.



Famous Trials in History

Even if we know little about the law, most of us know something about one of law’s great rituals, the trial. We are regularly fascinated when this or that legal case is played out in a courtroom and proclaimed in the media to be “the trial of the century.” Courtroom contests pit good versus evil, right versus wrong. But, in addition to their dramatic quality, they also are educational moments, occasions on which some of our most important political and social issues get played out before judge and jury. In this lecture, we will consider four trials that changed the world and American history during the twentieth century.

Four Famous Trials that Changed History
  • “Scopes Monkey Trial.”
  • The Nuremberg trials
  • The O.J. Simpson trial
  • Impeachment Trial against President Bill Clinton

We will start by examining famous trials in history including the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial.” In this 1925 case, a high school teacher was accused of violating a state law that made it illegal to teach human evolution in public schools. Next we take up the Nuremberg trials, held by Allied forces after World War II to prosecute the leaders of Nazi Germany. Our third trial occurred in 1995 when the state of California prosecuted O.J. Simpson for the murder of his wife. The final of the four trials that changed America occurred four years later when the United States Senate took up the impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton arising out of his conduct during and after his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Each of these famous trials in history crystallized crucial issues of the day. And, the decisions reached in each of them had a profound impact well beyond the boundaries of the courtroom. If you are interested in such pressing issues as freedom of speech and religion, the responsibilities of perpetrators of war crimes, the legal treatment of celebrities, and the private lives of public figures, or if you just want to have the fun of revisiting some of the most riveting moments in recent American history, this lecture will give you considerable food for thought.


Discussion Quessions:

1.) Why are trials valuable?
2.) What makes for a “fair” trial?
3.) Why are some trials more impactful than others?
4.) What are your thoughts on the 4 trials (Scopes, Nuremberg, O.J., Clinton’s Impeachment) that Professor Sarat chose to highlight in this talk? Are there any other trials you feel might have been more impactful on American history?
5.) Do you believe that the media should have full access to the courtroom during high-profile trials? Why or why not?


Enjoyed our lecture on the most famous trials in American history?

Sign up for One Day University Membership today for unlimited access to hundreds of talks and lectures including ‘Famous Trials in History’, ‘Symbols Of American Culture‘, ‘The Greatest Military Strategists Of All Time‘ and How Did The 60’s Change America! Also, be sure to stay up to date on all of our upcoming lectures by visiting our digital events.




0 reviews
5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star
Scroll to Top