I have always liked history, though I never feel I have enough time to devote to something so engaging and time consuming, just for fun. So when I saw a history class in our list of classes meeting our core IT requirements, I jumped on it. Of course I only read the title of the class so thought I was going to learn about the history and development of computers! Still I was not worried because I enjoy history. I will admit a certain disappointment when I learned we would be studying sensational trials instead. “True crime” ranks as perhaps my third least favorite subject, edging out only politics and current affairs for the bottom spot.
As I reviewed Douglas Linder’s site (“Famous Trials.” Accessed September 24, 2016. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/FTrials/ftrials.htm.) site however I thought I saw my out. Several trials jumped immediately to my attention; Socrates, Martin Luther and Galileo. These crimes were sensational, not because they were gruesome, but because they challenged the status quo. They also had the benefit of my preferred quality in History, they are older. I prefer my history as old as possible. Unfortunately, finding primary sources for famous trials of the Anasazi is even less likely than 16th Century Germany or Ancient Greece.
Another thought I had, though not a trial per se, was Constitutional Convention. It certainly had a sensational impact and involved a great deal of negotiation and legal wrangling. However, most of the initial meetings were actually held in secret and according to some, the attending members spent a great deal of time spying on each other to insure no one was discussing the proceedings outside the meetings. While I might be able to convince my professor to allow me this path of research, the very secrecy of the meetings is likely to remove the most obvious source of primary documents from my ability to find it.
The trial of Martin Luther holds additional appeal to me as I was raised Lutheran.
I knew if this was to become my final research project, I would need primary sources and the fact these trials were several hundred (or thousand) years old, finding such documents could be difficult. I started with the typical Google search and began chasing links. I learned in the time of Martin Luther there would indeed have been a collection of pamphlets written during the time and distributed much like newspapers. I would have to ask if translations of primary sources count as primary sources since the smattering of German I once learned would never be up to the task of translating 16th Century German. I was surprised by my initial research though which seemed to imply there were no actual transcripts of the court proceedings kept. I found one document that claimed to be translated for a document written by Martin Luther himself recounting the trial afterwards.
The most interesting thing I came across though was a 19th Century article in Catholic World magazine discussing “the ultimate failure of Martin Luther” and the declining membership in the Lutheran church (LUTHER AND THE DIET OF WORMS. (1883, 11). The Catholic World, A Monthly Magazine of General Literature and Science (1865-1906), 38, 145.) . This made me think about when my wife and I joined a local Lutheran church. She was raised Catholic and it had not occurred to me she would have been given a different perspective on Martin Luther. In fact, it had not occurred to me she would have a perspective or opinion on Martin Luther at all.
This led me to consider a new approach to these trials. Because these trials challenged the prevailing thinking of the day rather than the emotions, it seems they had the power to keep challenging the current thinking, century after century. This would actually provide primary documents (at least for later years), much like the article in Catholic World magazine and allow perhaps some analysis or trends.
Finally, the Scopes “Monkey” trial had a similar appeal to me. Like the others, the trial challenged the prevailing thinking and of course, has a much stronger chance of diverse primary sources.