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Famous Trials

found in: social studies; 9-12

Famous Trials is a supplemental source for high school history and law students and teachers that provides essays, trial transcripts, exhibits, maps, images, and other resources connected to many important trials in world history. It proceeds from the trial Socrates in 399 B.C. to that of George Zimmerman (Trayvon Martin) in 2013. Each trial homepage opens with an essay that sets the trial in context, describes the proceedings, and examines the outcome. A sidebar has links to other resources.

Some trials important in American History include:

Salem Witchcraft Trials (1692) From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women were hanged as witches. One eighty-year-old man was pressed to death. Many spent months in jail. Hundreds of others were accused. Though, ergot poisoning has been implicated in the behavior of some of the accusers (See: The Witch’s Curse), this essay suggests a more mundane motivation. A literary tie-in: One of the judges, John Hathorne, was the great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne author of The Scarlet Letter and “Young Goodman Brown”. Hathorne also plays a role in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. An activity, You’re Accused! gives students six opportunities to respond.

John Peter Zenger Trial (1735)  this trial of a German immigrant printer for printing articles critical of the Governor for New York Province helped establish freedom of the press in the Colonies and eventually the Bill of Rights.

Triangle Fire Trial (1911)  The fire broke out on the eighth floor of the factory in lower Manhattan near closing time. Most of the Triangle Shirtwaist employees were teenage girls and recent immigrants. 146 garment workers, 123 women and 23 men died. The defendant factory owners were found not guilty, but the resulting outcry led to reforms in the state labor code.


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