Course information and policies

You can find a full copy of the syllabus here: Law and Literature Fall 2019



Law and Literature

Fall 2019

Class meets: Tuesday/Thursday 2:30-3:45pm, VC 4-213

Course website:


Dr. Stephanie Insley Hershinow                                       Office: VC 7-256                          Drop-in hours: Tuesday 10am-12pm or by appointment

This course explores both law in literature (how literary texts view enduring legal issues) and law as literature (how the methods of literary criticism provide new understandings of legal texts). We will investigate themes of justice and bias and the limits of the law in literary texts by writers such as Daniel Defoe, William Godwin, Toni Morrison, and Valeria Luiselli. In addition, we will read writings by Supreme Court Justices, trial transcripts, newspaper reports, prison letters, and documentaries using the methods of literary interpretation and analysis. Selected topics for deeper engagement will include criminal responsibility, legal personhood, the form of the court case, human rights, and mass incarceration.


By the end of this course, you should be able:

  • To become familiar with the formal, historical, and cultural dimensions of a variety of texts from Anglophone literature.
  • To interpret literary texts, along with contemporary theories of justice and law.
  • To engage with the work of critics and theorists, building on and disagreeing with their arguments while citing them accurately.
  • To write persuasively and precisely in a scholarly essay, using revision to strengthen claims, polish prose, and develop readings.


Major Assignments:

  • Take-home midterm
  • Response papers
  • Research essay (including proposal, close reading, annotated bibliography)
  • Informal writing in class and on course blog


Details for all assignments will be distributed well in advance of deadlines. All assignments must be turned in to pass the course. Please see the last page of the syllabus for the course grading policy.


In addition to the materials I circulate in class, I’m asking that you buy the following texts:

William Godwin, Caleb Williams*

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Valeria Luiselli, The Lost Children’s Archive

* We’ll read this one first, so acquire it asap.


All books are available from the campus bookstore, though you may be able to find better prices at other bookstores (I like Strand) or online (just make sure to factor in time for shipping). Other readings will be made available in class and/or on our course blog.


How to Do Well in This Course:

Read actively and against the grain. Take notes while you read and mark up the texts thoroughly. Be on the lookout for things that surprise or puzzle you. Those are the aspects to bring up in class and to figure out through your writing. I recommend reading with a pen and not a highlighter. This is because your aim is to work through your thoughts while reading, not just to memorize or to skim.

Attend class regularly and participate in discussions. When you take notes, write down not only the main points from my short lectures but also the insights you come up with yourself and the connections you see across everyone else’s responses. If you strongly disagree with something said in class, write it down! That could form the basis for a great essay. Contributing to class discussion by making observations, asking questions, and responding to others’ ideas is the best way to make sure you understand the terms and texts we cover. If you stay engaged, you’re much more likely to process and remember the material. If you know you have trouble speaking up in class, talk to me; I may have some useful tips.

If you need help with your writing, ask early and often. You’ll have opportunities to get feedback on your work, but don’t hesitate to share ideas or to get help with an aspect of writing you already know you struggle with. If you’re unsure what an assignment is asking for, ask questions until you feel comfortable beginning to write. Likewise, if you have questions about written feedback, I’m always happy to talk once you’ve read the comments.

Frequently Asked Questions:


What if I miss class?

  • Much of the learning in this course happens through our discussion of the reading assignments for each class. Class time and online discussions will be highly interactive, requiring frequent participation, discussion, and in-class writing. For these reasons, I expect you to attend all class meetings.
  • Only religious holidays constitute excused absences; beyond that I do not have excused or unexcused absences.
  • If you must miss class, check the schedule on our course website and make friends with someone in class to see what you missed so you can stay up with your work. If you miss class, please do not email me asking what we did in class, or, worse, if we did anything in class you should know about. (I mean, come on!)
  • If an assignment is due on a day that you miss because of an unexcused absence, you are responsible for keeping up with the daily schedule and contacting someone in the class to see what you missed and for turning in your work at the same time it was due for those who were in class. [See “Late Work.”]


What if I’m late to class or leave early?

  • Because showing up on time and respecting other people are important parts of participating and learning in this class, I’ll hold all of us to a standard of being on time to class and staying until class is over. Late arrivals and early departures are disruptive and ultimately disrespectful. I expect you to be on time.
  • If you do arrive late to class, please check with someone nearby to see what you missed to minimize class disruption.


What if I need to drop the course?

  • If you fall behind in the class for any reason, I encourage you to talk to me or see an academic counselor. If you feel you must drop or withdraw from this course (and I hope you don’t find yourself in that situation), you must do so by the dates on the academic calendar.
  • Please note that merely ceasing to attend class is not the same as withdrawing from the course. (You will not be dropped automatically if you stop coming to class; you still will receive a grade for the course if you do not drop.)


Can I turn work in late? What if I have technology issues?

  • All work is due at the time specified within the assignment details. Late assignments will not receive feedback, though you can discuss them with me in office hours.
  • As you may have learned the hard way in the past, it’s a good habit to save important files such as course work to a location aside from your laptop or whatever device you may use for your classes—for example, Google Drive. Hard drives crash, thumb drives get lost, and laptops, tablets, and phones can get stolen. While I’ll be sad along with you if this happens, it’s your responsibility to make sure you back up your work so that life—and your effective participation in this course—can go on.


How much time will the class require?

  • The college standard is that students spend about two hours working outside of class for every hour spent in class. For a three-hour course such as this, that equals an average six hours of time outside of class per week. Outside work includes reading course texts, writing responses to course readings, and drafting and revising your major projects.
  • I try to assign smaller amounts of outside-of-class work between our class meetings on Monday and Wednesday and reserve the larger amounts for the days between our Wednesday and Monday meetings. However, you may want to look ahead on the course schedule and compare it to your other classes to see if there are certain weeks where a lot will be expected of you so you can manage your time accordingly.


Are accommodations possible?

  • We all learn differently, and we all have times when we run into trouble producing the level of work we know we would like to produce. Whether or not you have a documented disability, please feel free to come talk to me about ways to make this class work for you so that you can produce work you’re proud of.
  • Baruch is committed to making individuals with disabilities full participants in the programs, services, and activities of the college community through compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. It is the policy of Baruch that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability will be denied access to any program, service, or activity offered by the university. Individuals with disabilities have a right to request accommodations.
  • If you require any accommodation, please contact the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities at (646) 312-4590, and let me know as soon as you can, ideally during the first two weeks of class. I encourage you to meet with me to co-design accommodations. For additional information check out the Student Disability Services webpage.


What if I need help?

  • We’ll figure it out. Please, please come see me during office hours or, if that time isn’t convenient, make an appointment to come talk to me. I encourage you to do this even if you’re unsure whether you’re struggling, but it’s never too late to reach out. If you need help that I can’t provide, I may also be able to point you toward the appropriate campus resources.
  • The Writing Center offers free, one-to-one (in-person and online) and small-group workshop writing support to all Baruch students. The Center’s consultants work collaboratively with you to deepen your writing and English language skills. At any step in the process, they’ll help you become a more confident and versatile writer. I encourage you to schedule your appointment well in advance of when your writing is due. You can schedule an appointment at: Visit the Writing Center in NVC 8-185 or at the Newman Library Reference Desk, or log on to their website,, to learn more.
  • When we get to the research essay assignment, I will encourage you to meet with a research librarian who can help you find appropriate sources and shape your research question. Remember, librarians are there to help, and they enjoy working with students!


A Note About Academic Integrity

  • I’ll expect you to compose your projects ethically, meaning that if you use the work of others you cite that work, and that all work in this course is original, composed for the first time for this course, and is entirely your own, to the degree that anything we write is entirely our own. All students enrolled at Baruch are expected to maintain the highest standards of academic honesty, as defined in the Baruch Student Handbook.
  • Plagiarism is presenting another’s ideas, research, or writing as your own, such as:
  • Copying another person’s actual words without the use of quotation marks and footnotes (a functional limit is four or more words taken from another’s work)
  • Presenting another person’s ideas or theories in your own words without acknowledgement
  • Using information that is not considered common knowledge without acknowledging the source
  • Plagiarism may result in a failing grade on a particular assignment, at the least, and, depending on the circumstances, a failing grade in the course. It is a serious offense that, if done knowingly and depending on the severity and other factors, can result in a failing grade (or worse) and a mark on your permanent academic record.
  • If you ever have any questions or concerns about plagiarism, please ask me. You can also check out the online plagiarism tutorial prepared by members of the Newman Library faculty at and Baruch College’s academic integrity policy at