The Scopes Trial, A Photographic History

By Scott, Byron T. | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

The Scopes Trial, A Photographic History


Scott, Byron T., Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


* Caudill, Edward; Larson, Edward & Mayshark, Jesse Fox. (2000). The Scopes Thal, A Photographic History. Knoxville, Tenn.: The University of Tennessee Press. 96 pp. Clothbound $45, Paperback, $18.95.

When free speech and ambitions collide the result is high drama and American history. This slim volume uses photographs, most previously unpublished, alongside in-depth captions and commentaries to examine the issues behind the notorious "Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tenn. over a steamy week in July, 1925. Although the prosecution of high school coach and part-time biology teacher, John Scopes, took place more than 75 years ago, the issues are as fresh as recent school board decisions in Kansas and other states. Revivals of the Broadway classic, "Inherit the Wind," once again are popping up around America with the frequency of Mid-- western thunderstorms.

Teachers at both high school and college levels might find this book a valued supplement in a variety of discussions, whether centered on free speech, covering courts, religious controversy or theater. While the contrasts between historical fact and literary drama are sometimes stark, Caudill's footnote-rich introduction and Larson's captions, averaging over 150 words for each of 37 photos, makes clear that the common, basic issues are the same. The combatants include: evolution vs. The Bible, modernism vs. fundamentalism, individual vs. collective rights, free speech vs. the law, parental control vs. academic freedom.

Both Caudill and Larson are authors of full-length studies of the Scopes Trial and the issues involved. Larson's book, Summer of the Gods (Basic Books, 1997) won a 1998 Pulitzer for historical writing. Perspective and detail abound in provocative abundance. Both combine wry humor with a journalist's eye for good quotes and meaningful detail.

Combining with the surprisingly sharp black-and-white photos, the authors bring the steamy Rhea County courtroom and the ambitious players to life: the avaricious businessmen of Dayton, who lured Scopes into breaking a controversial law, the American Civil Liberties Union, which invited law-- breakers in defiance to the laws of Tennessee and other states, and the publicity-hungry Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, who died only four days after the legal spectacle came to its inconclusive end. …

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