Planning the Perfect Crime [Course]

Bruno and Guy plan the Perfect Crime

Bruno and Guy plan the Perfect Crime

Paul Bond and I are start week 3 of our True Crime seminar at UMW tomorrow night. I still have some colonial crime narratives to write about, but before I do I want to talk briefly about the planning and design thinking that went into True Crime. This is the first course that I’ve planned so diligently, and I have Paul to thank for that. We worked on  the readings, assignments, and a particular tech approach on-and-off for almost five months, and it’s already paying off.

We’re reading non-fiction crime narratives from the mid-17th century up through the late 20th. The course traces the trans-valuation of crime and punishment over 350 years of crime narratives in North America (almost all of which are U.S.-centric). I’ll be talking in detail about each of these readings on this blog, but I’m really happy with the reading list on the syllabus. We have sermons, graphic novels, documentaries, feature films, and even a non-fiction novel or two. It might be too late, but the 19th century is in need of rounding out with some examples of slave narratives. I’ll have to consult Paul about that.

More than anything, though, I’m excited by the way we’re organizing the class so tightly. Student groups run the discussion for the entire week, and they’re responsible for the research, questions, and general framing for an entire week. Every fifth week the class breaks to produce a 30 minute True Crime TV episode framing what we’ve covered over the previous five weeks. The cool part is that each group must use the research, questions, and general discussion for the week they led to build there part of that 30 minute TV episode. We are encouraging them to get creative with what they do with that segment of the video, as you will see below with the Gallows Poll.

This idea of producing what you’ve learning is part of a vision I had for a Zombies and Pirates class I never taught. Basically, I wanted to build in video production as part and parcel of sharing the academic work we covered over the course of a semester. That never happened, but while sitting down to plan with Paul we came up with a schedule and process that actually enabled this to happen in an organized fashion.

A True Crime Game Show coming to a blog near you!

In order to frame the expectations of how the groups will run the course over the next twelve weeks, Paul and I have modeled what we expect from the class discussions for the first two weeks, shared our notes and research for the readings in a course wiki, and even begun to show them how to turn a reading of Puritan crime narratives into exploitative gameshow dramas for the True Crime TV episode 🙂 All this while the students are regularly blogging their thoughts on the reading, commenting on each others reflections, and particpating in class.

As I said to start this post, I’m really pretty excited with the architecture we ‘ve designed. It makes the students responsible for the material and engaged with each others ideas, all the while pushing them to be creative with representing the works they have read and researched through media other than the research paper. This is a class even Tom Woodward would be proud of, and I owe it all to Paul—he is a master schemer in all things crime and Bava!

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5 Responses to Planning the Perfect Crime [Course]

  1. George Meadows says:

    Hey Jim, I’ve got a copy of Blassingame’s Slave Testimony – it’s several hundred pages of interviews, speeches, letters, etc. Let me know if you need it. I used it in a project we did with a museum a few years back.

  2. Reverend says:

    Actualy, I would lvoe to see it. Some actual documents beyond the narratives might add a compelling element. We are reading narratives by Joseph Mountain and Thomas Pwoers (two early African American crime narrativs) but go silent for 200 years or so before the 1990s. Some chronological coherence is in order 🙂

  3. Paul says:

    UNC-Chapel Hill has a collection online: Could be worth investigating.

  4. cali4beach says:

    wow this looks so awesome!! i am curious to see how it turns out!!

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