Teaching Serial as Public History
Six months ago, Adnan Syed was just another inmate doing time in a Baltimore prison. Today, he's fueling debate and speculation and getting renewed attention on a long-forgotten case.
In a 4-6 page essay, examine the perils and promises of doing history in public by using Serial as a model of real-time, public research and interpretation.
Your essay must address at least four of the following issues and must explicitly name the four in your opening paragraph.
- Portrayals of race and gender
- Portrayals of Muslim males, Muslim families and Islam
- The uses of nostalgia to entertain audiences
- The difference between technology use then vs. now
- The effects of the podcast on new evidence and treatment of old evidence
- The effects of the podcast on players and stakeholders
- The use of experts in legitimizing the narrative in Serial
- The draw of an unknowable truth
- The draw of archetypal themes
- The portrayal of victims vs. perpetrators
- Ethical considerations of putting the justice system “on trial” by rectifying a “finished” case
- Aspects of the US culture that made this a popular podcast vs. ways that Serial’s popularity came as a surprise (i.e. desensitization to murder?)
- Techniques and tools that draw in and sustain audience engagement (be specific)
- Things about the podcast that turn audiences away
- What public historians can learn from Serial about engagement with audiences
- What scholars of memory can learn by engagement with Serial
- Freestyle – whatever you want (name it, though)
Your essay should cite at least four episodes of Serial directly. It should cite at least 2 primary sources and at least three articles, reddit threads, other podcasts, interviews, etc. about the case.
I, for one, am very curious about what they come up with. But I really think it helped us talk about memory, identity, different publics and the effects of public engagement in the construction of knowledge in novel ways that they really grasped and owned. I only have one person in the class who keeps talking about faulty or inconsistent memory being "wrong." Win.