True Crime: America’s Most Wanted                                                   Fall 2013

Mtg. Times and places: TR, 6:00 PM – 7:15pm; Room: duPont 310
Professors: Jim Groom & Paul Bond
Office hours: duPont 310 from 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM or by appointment
E-mail: &

Course Description

Over the course of our 15-week term, we will examine the history of True Crime in North America as narrative form from the colonial period up and until the TV series America’s Most Wanted. The particular strain of American non-fiction that we will consider over the course of the semester has been recently termed “True Crime,” ostensibly distinguishing it from the abundance of fictional crime narratives that have seduced readers’ imaginations for the last three centuries. This class will trace the roots of this non-fiction from Puritan execution narratives to 19th century gang narratives to the “golden age” of the form with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me. All the while, analyzing the changing intellectual landscape over the last 300 years surrounding questions of gender, class, race, and morality in relationship to crime. This seminar will attempt to examine how a culture’s changing relationship to “real life” crime narratives over the last 300 years can help us understand the fundamental and complex role criminality plays in defining a people at any given point in time. Course requirements include an ongoing class blog, in-class participation, and produced and researched TV shows.

Required Texts

  • Daniel E. Williams’ Pillars of Salt: An Anthology of Early American Crime Fiction
  • Harold Schechter’s True Crime: An American Anthology
  • Truman Capote’s  In Cold Blood
  • Brian Michael Bendis Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel
  • Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me
  • Sanyika Shakur’s Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member

Course Policy

ATTENDANCE: Attendance is mandatory. You will be allowed no more than 2 absences.  Your grade will be lowered one full letter after each additional absence, unless you have a documented medical excuse. Since your participation is essential, if you are absent 3 or more times, even with a medical excuse, you will need to withdraw from the course.  Be sure to come to class on time. Late arrivals are disruptive and distracting.

READING: I expect everyone to have completed ALL of the assigned reading by the start of each class session, and to be prepared to discuss it in class. For a schedule of readings, consult the course calendar (below).  This class is relatively reading-heavy averaging 150-300 pages a week, so make sure that you can handle your responsibilities. We can’t have an interesting, engaging, and productive class if folks don’t do the reading.  Moreover, the TV productions and research projects will be based on the reading.  Do the reading!

PLAGIARISM: Plagiarism is defined as using the ideas or writings of others and passing them off as your own.  Such practice will result in an F for the course and possible disciplinary action from the University. Familiarize yourself with methods of avoiding unintentional plagiarism when quoting or paraphrasing another’s work. We will discuss these in class.

Requirements and Grades

Your grade will be based on your regular class participation, blogging, and your part in two TV projects.

PARTICIPATION: Participation is required.  I ask that you take an active part in class discussion both in the classroom and on the course blog so that we can make class time lively and interesting.  This means engaging in lively discussion about the readings in class and in the commentary on each other’s sites. The importance of this cannot be overstated given it will be 20% of your grade.

Discussion leadership: Pairs of students will be required to lead a class discussion (Groups and days TBD). While all students are responsible for completing all readings and participating in all discussions, discussion leaders are further responsible for finding background information to ground and extend discussion and raising questions to engage the class. Discussion leaders may want to consider the central questions of the course: What does the material say about its time and place? How does it relate to our time and place? Consider issues of gender, class, race, and morality. Discussion leaders should meet with instructors and blog about their agenda in advance of their assigned weeks.

Blogging: Each student will be expected to keep an online space that you will control and maintain to regularly reflect, critique, and share your thoughts about the material we read regularly over the course of the semester. Each student is expected to regularly blog their thoughts about the reading, and everyone is encouraged to use this space to develop a sense of voice, share their findings on various topics, and generally engage the ideas and one another over the course of the semester. These blogs are to be openly accessible, and they will also represent your ongoing work for this class.

The True Crime TV Project: Three times over the course of the semester each student will work as part of group to produce a True Crime show reporting on the crimes narratives and films we have read thus far. You all will be expected to research, write, produce and broadcast these shows. You have a wide range of options, from interviewing  contemporary scholars, creating satires, or generally engaging the material in interesting and creative ways. Each group will be part of the production of at  least two of the three shows over the course of the semester in order to receive credit.

Your final grade will be calculated according to the following percentages:
Blog Work                                                                               20%
Class Participation                                                                  20%
True Crime TV Project                                                            30%
Discussion-led discussion                                                       30%

Course Calendar

Week 1: Introductions and a brief overview of True Crime as genre
Tue 8/27:              Introduction Syllabus Review
Thu 8/29:              Introduction to the True Crime Genre

*Watch  Stephen Pinker’s Ted Talk “The Better Angels of Our Nature”

*Harold Schechter’s Introdcution to True Crime Anthology
*Harold Schechter Interview on True Crime

Week 2: Section 1: Colonial Crime
Tue 9/3: William Bradford and Cotton Mather

Thu 9/5: Sexuality, Crime, and Gender

Week 3: Public Execution: Discipline and Punish
Tue 9/10: Michel Foucault’s “The Body of the Condemned”

Thu 9/12: Pyrates, Negroes, and Thieves

Week 4:  The American Bloody Register: Crime Publishing in the Early Republic
Tue 9/17.      The American Bloody Register

An Encyclopedia of Crime

Thu 9/19.     Benjamin Franklin’s “The Murder of a Daughter”

Week 5: True Crime as National News
Tue 9/24.   Crime on Display/Crime as National News

Thu 9/26.    Muckraking

Week 6: TV Episode Recording Work

Working and recording details to be decided

Week 7: Fred & Allie and Murder Ballad
Tue 10/8. The Ballad of Fred & Allie

Thu 10/10. Murder Ballads

Week 8: The Legacy of the Gangster
Tue 10/15:  Fall Break

Thu 10/17:  Class cancelled

Week 9: The Emergence of the Psychopath

Tue 10/22:   Brian Michael Bendis’ Torso

Thu 10/24:  H. L. Mencken “More and Better Psychopaths” & Joseph Mitchell’s “Execution”

Week 10: The 1950s — True Crime as Pop Art Emerges

Tue 10/29:  Jack Webb’s “The Black Dahlia” and James Ellroy’s “My Mother’s Killer”

Thu 10/31: Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1st Half)

Week 11: Video Production

11/5: Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (2nd Half)

Working and recording details to be decided

Week 12:  The 1960s and The Manson Murders

Tue 11/12    Helter Skelter (the movie)

  • Watch online here. The password is “truecrime” (no quotes).

Thu 11/14   Hippies, Vietnam, and the 1960s[

Week 13: Serial Killers

Tue 11/19    Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me (1st Half)

Thu 11/21     Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me (2nd Half)

Week 14: Mafia, Movies, and the Wiseguy

Tue 11/26 Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas

Thu 11/28 No class Thanksgiving

Week 15: Modern Day Monsters

Tue 12/3 Sanyika Shakur’s Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member (1st Half)

Thu 12/5 Sanyika Shakur’s Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member (2nd Half)

Week 16: Final Video Production

Working and recording details to be decided


4 thoughts on “Syllabus

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