English 122: Law and Literature - Race, Crime, and the Law (Fall 2021)

* This course fulfills the Theories and Methodologies, American Literature, and Diverse Literature requirements for English Majors.  

* Fulfills the core requirements: Artistic Analysis, American Diversity, and The Common Good. 

* Fulfills the Domestic Justice requirement for the Law and Society Minor. 

* This course is cross-listed with Ethnic Studies. 


        This course traces the intersections of race, crime, and the law in the United States from slavery, to Jim Crow, to the criminal justice system of the twentieth century. We will begin with an examination of the Constitution that sanctioned the institution of slavery and that led to the rise of two distinct legal systems: one for the free, the other for the enslaved. We will then turn to the Jim Crow laws of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that sought to control and disenfranchise Blacks in the wake of Emancipation. Finally, we will examine the modern criminal justice system and its role in the criminalization of Black men.


        By comparing legal and literary texts, we will begin to perceive the law as a construction that is shaped by external forces, and the literary text as a response to complex social problems that the law cannot fully resolve. Such comparative work will enable us to examine the law as a “text” and the literary text as offering its own determinations of justice and the common good. Please join us.


Reading List:

A course reader

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia (1785)

U.S. Constitution (1789)

State v. Mann (1830)

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Grimké, Angelina. Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841)

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845)

Truth, Sojourner. “Ain’t I a Woman?” (1851)

Chesnutt, Charles W. The Marrow of Tradition (1901)

Wright, Richard. Native Son (1940)


Requirements: Close reading, seminar-style participation, presentations, critical reading responses, essays.


Instructor:     Kathryn Koo                    MWF 10:30-11:35