Truth & Crime, Fall 2024

Truth & Crime (English 160/Legal Studies 160)

What is true crime’s “truth”?

Truth and Crime examines the development, scope, and effects of the “True Crime” genre in the United States. By taking a humanities-oriented approach, we will explore various areas of the genre (written, podcasts, documentaries, etc.) and try to find answers to the question: Why we are so compelled by true crime narratives and what is true crime’s “truth”? The course will untangle the complex relationship between law and narrative (background on each will be provided) and the various epistemological systems it combines, including the role of science and technology. At the end of the course, students will have gained a detailed understanding of what our culture’s relationship to “real life” crime narratives tells us about the fundamental and complex role criminality plays in defining us as a society.

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ENGLISH 160/LEGAL STUDIES 160: Truth & Crime

Class Number: 36648
3 Credits, Lecture: MW 12:05-12:55pm, plus discussion section
Requisites: None
Course Designation: Literature
Level: Elementary
L&S Credit: Counts as Liberal Arts and Science credit in L&S

Mode of Instruction: In Person



Ralph Grunewald

Prof. Ralph Grunewald was introduced as a Mellon-Morgridge Professor in the Fall of 2022. He is a member of the English Department and the Center for Law, Society, and Justice.

Much of Dr. Grunewald’s work addresses fundamental questions of how truth, guilt, and justice are interconnected in different justice systems. His approach is interdisciplinary, combining legal and humanities scholarship. In his new book, Narratives of Guilt and Innocence: The Power of Storytelling in Wrongful Conviction Cases (New York University Press, forthcoming), Dr. Grunewald analyzes how narrativization (the way “facts” and “stories” are told) in the criminal process affects the outcome of a case, potentially leading to wrongful convictions.

His fall 2022 Constellation course, Criminal Justice in America, was an introduction into the criminal justice system in the United States, focusing on timely and pertinent questions and inspiring students to think critically about the law as a human-made system.

His 2023 Constellation, Truth and Crime, will expand this focus by inviting students to explore and discuss why we are so fascinated by true-crime stories, what legal truth is, and how “evidence” and “facts” are ultimately constructed. Can podcasts and TV shows produce a more accurate picture of a case and achieve a “truer” form of justice by exposing details the law might not have accounted for, or is their purpose just to entertain us?

Other courses taught by Professor Grunewald:

Criminal Justice in America, Law and Literature, Guilt, American Juvenile Justice with a Comparative Perspective, Comparative Criminal Justice

Check out a recent article on Dr. Grunewald’s class:

Cool Class: Truth and Crime,” by Aaron Conklin, August 30, 2023