Germanic Languages | Topics in Arts and Humanities
E103 | 11589 | Breithaupt

Topic: From Witchcraft to Terrorism: The Literature of Notorious Crimes


Infanticide in 1780, crimes of passion in 1900, and serial killer in
the 90s, what do they have in common?

Each of these crimes was the obsession of public attention at certain
points in history. This course will examine why certain crimes draw
such attention while others do not and how those crimes relate to the
values and institutions that organize a society. We will address the
fascination of crime by focusing on those crimes in each historical
period which were seen as notorious by their contemporaries, including
crimes related to gender, race, belief, and psychological states, and
will end with our contemporary situation in the US, examining
representations of terror in the media.

Often, these notorious crimes did not actually occur more often than
others, but became infamous through the specific way in which they
were presented in works of literature or in movies.  Thus, we will
discuss the significance of these presentations and the extent to
which the notorious crime can serve as a negative mirror of its
society. For this purpose, we will develop our own method of “close
reading” of literature and texts in general.

This course is designed for students who want to combine analytical
and creative skills. The idea of the class is to involve participants
(students and professors) in an active process of discovering things
by themselves from the beginning.  Instead of starting with intensive
historical lectures for each period, we will work like archeologists
who start with one fragment and try to (re)construct a whole society
out of this one fragment, the notorious crime. The course enhances
students’ critical thinking ability by having them create their own

We will start by discussing witchcraft in the 1500s and move step by
step to contemporary crimes as presented in books (B.E. Ellis’s
American Psycho), films (such as Silence of the Lambs or Seven), and
the mass media that are engaging terrorism.

Book Orders:

- Course Reader (required)

- Bernhard Schlinck, The Reader (required)
ISBN-10: 0375707972 Vintage