Tuesday, December 21, 2021
By Giovanna Deo

A new course at Iowa Law examines the law through the lens of great works of literature. 

English Law and Literature explores the relationships between English law and English literature at the historical, practical, imaginative, and theoretical levels, encouraging students to consider the depiction of law and jurisprudential questions in works of literature.

The new course offering was created during the pandemic by Stella Burch Elias, professor and Chancellor William Gardiner Hammond Fellow in Law. With COVID having curtailed the usual London Law Program meeting in London and Oxford, Elias wanted to develop materials that would enable students to “visit” the locations, that they would have otherwise seen in person, through plays, novels, poems, and writings.

“Developing this new interdisciplinary course, against the backdrop of the pandemic, and working closely with the students using the Oxford tutorial model to develop their papers, was a particularly special experience,” expressed Elias.

Students who took the class seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, leaving anonymous course evaluations filled with positive messages. “I really appreciate this kind of course that connected the law, literature, social history, and critical theory. I've been hungry for this type of educational experience since starting at Iowa, and I'm grateful to have found an outlet. I hope more courses like this are developed!” stated one of them.

Another note said “I'm very glad I took this course. The experience meant more to me than would be appropriate to express in a course evaluation. What I'll say is that I think a professional college does its students a great service by offering them the chance—in the classroom—to test the limits of their new profession and to think about how it might integrate (or disintegrate) with other important human activities.”

In the future, the course will be offered as part of Iowa's London Law Program, which meets in the United Kingdom during the winter intersession. But the course is currently being taught online, in small sections, during the pandemic.

Elias is looking forward to teaching the course again in January 2022. “Iowa Law is well known as the Writing Law School,” she explained, “but to be a great writer, you must also be an engaged and attentive reader. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work with our students in this class where they have the opportunity to read extensively, embrace their creativity, and hone their analytical writing skills.”