How Did We Get to Trump? An Overview of Twentieth-Century American Law - NOTE: THE COURSE IS CANCELLED IN THE AUTUMN SEMESTER 2018

Course content

The current political situation in the United States has repercussions for the entire world - not least, upon the legal paradigms through which the US government interacts with the world and its own citizens. This course explores current, hot-button legal issues in the United States through 5 different cultural texts. Students will examine major issues in US cultural history during the 20th century through the lens of modern literature and then explore how the United States Supreme Court has grappled with these issues in some of the most important legal cases over the course of the century.
The use of literature helps focus an analysis of the relevant historical and cultural issues that come into play when the Supreme Court tries to resolve a legal conflict. This provides insight not only into how the current legal and political situation in the US came about but how judges more generally apply legal reasoning in practical situations.Students will learn the basic outline of 20th-century American cultural and legal history. They will learn basic methods in the interpretation of literary and cultural texts as a way of examining social and historical contexts.
They will also learn basic concepts of common law reasoning and legal argumentation in the English/American legal system. In addition to the theoretical background, the course provides a ‘hands-on’ approach for examining how law, culture, and history interact in the way lawyers and judges analyse legal issues and craft legal opinions. Thus, the course provides specific knowledge about legal reasoning in the American context that can be applied to legal reasoning in any social or cultural context. The course is based on methods pioneered in the ‘law and literature’ movement over the past thirty years. A basic knowledge of English is required.

Learning outcome

The course aims to put legal methods and themes into perspective by introducing methods and points of view used in the disciplines of the humanities and show how they interact in actual historical instances. Language is our cultural software, and legal practitioners need to master narrative intelligence: to be able to determine which of the many stories presented to them are plausible and to detect what lies under the surface. The course aims to provide knowledge not only about American legal and cultural history but how lawyers and judges filter cultural and social issues through legal concepts.


Students who have completed this course should be able to:
- Demonstrate coherent and advanced knowledge of the relationship between law and the humanities;
- Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the conceptual foundations of law within the American common-law tradition;
- Exercise critical thinking and judgment concerning the assumptions and aspirations of law;
- Engage with legal materials as a critical and creative reader;
- Participate in intellectual discussions about the foundations of law through a clear and coherent exposition of knowledge and ideas.


- The course is designed for 5th semester law students who have the courage to take a BA-course in English;
- The course will enable students to use law and legal methods in new and different contexts;
- The course will increase the students’ ability to read and interpret texts, and to identify relevant legal sources and problems in complex contexts;
- The course will prepare students to work in an interdisciplinary way with issues that have international importance.

Student presentations and group work on cases and other relevant material.

Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry (film version)
McCreary v. ACLU of Kentucky (excerpts)
Bowers v. Hardwick/Lawrence v. Texas (excerpts9
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (film or book)
Plessy v. Ferguson/US v. Virginia (excerpts)
Brown v. Board of Education (excerpts)
Louise Erdrich, Round House (excerpts)
Worcester v. Georgia (excerpts)
US v. Wong Kim Ark/Elk v. Wilkins (excerpts)
Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Lochner v. New York (excerpts)
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (excerpts)
Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (film version)
Shelby County v. Holder (excerpts)
Citizens United v. FEC (excerpts)

Intellectual curiosity and the aility to think in an interdisciplinary way.

Students must have a good command of English.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

Students will keep weekly journals analyzing class discussion of the issues.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 min.
Oral exam without preparation, 20 minutes
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Seminar
  • 35
  • Preparation
  • 171,25
  • English
  • 206,25