Zahr Said, ‘Incorporating Literary Methods and Texts in the Teaching of Tort Law’

This essay, presented in a Law and Humanities Section panel at the 2012 AALS Annual Meeting, discusses my use of literature to aid and amplify legal analysis in a first-year Torts class. Literary texts and methods helped my students investigate how the law conceives of, and expresses, duties and losses among parties. The course drew on several diverse strands of law-and-literature methodology and it incorporated literary texts and methods into discussions of case law and legal policy to produce analysis that is deeply interdisciplinary.

Content and methodology, to the extent they can be satisfactorily decoupled, informed my teaching of Torts in separate ways. First, I incorporated a central literary text that accompanied more traditional legal materials. Second, I required students to engage in close reading and I helped them theorize the act of reading itself. By emphasizing the textually mediated nature of the cases — both as a function of common law’s system of authority through analogy, and as a function of the casebook editors’ choices — I hope to have made clear to students that this is a new type of reading they are doing in law school, and that they are learning to think in new ways. In growing acculturated to legal analysis, law students are learning not just a new language, but a new awareness of how and why they read the way they do.

The paper includes an appendix listing some discussion questions for The Sweet Hereafter, by Russell Banks, one of the texts I used in the class.

Said, Zahr, Incorporating Literary Methods and Texts in the Teaching of Tort Law (January 2, 2012). California Law Review Circuit, Vol. 3, pp. 170-81, January 2012; University of Washington School of Law Research Paper.

First posted 2012-03-08 08:45:05

Leave a Reply