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It was a big story in a small place. During the summer of 1925, the tiny hamlet of Dayton, Tennessee, became the setting for one of the most controversial trials in American history. In a move designed partly as a publicity scheme and partly as a means to test a newly enacted anti-evolution law, a young teacher named John Thomas Scopes agreed to be arrested for teaching Darwin’s theory of natural selection in the public schools. The resulting courtroom showdown pitted Clarence Darrow, the brilliant trial lawyer and self-proclaimed agnostic, against Williams Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate and fundamentalist Christian. For twelve days all eyes focused on Dayton as a spirited public debate unfolded.
Published on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Scopes trial, this book vividly recalls that famous episode through an array of fascinating archival photographs, many of them never before published. Images of the circus-like atmosphere that overtook Dayton during the trial alternate with candid photos of the key players. The accompanying text and captions summarize the events and clarify the underlying issues of the trial. While the legal consequences of the trial were minuscule—it ended in Scopes’s conviction, which was later overturned on a technicality—its symbolic importance was enormous, defining the science-religion debate in the twentieth century.
In addition to revisiting the Scopes trial, the book also examines its continuing legacy in Tennessee history, politics, religion, and education. Although the 1925 law was finally repealed in 1967, state legislators have made subsequent efforts to challenge the teaching of evolution. “Like life itself,” notes Edward Caudill in his introduction, “the controversy does not simply stop, but keeps evolving.”
The Contributors: Edward Caudill is associate dean for graduate studies and research in the College of Communications at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is the author of Darwinian Myths: The Uses and Misuses of a Theory.
Edward J. Larson is Richard B. Russell Professor of History and professor of law at the University of Georgia. His book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for history.
Jesse Fox Mayshark is senior editor of Metro Pulse, a weekly newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee.
|Introduction: The Scopes Trial||1|
|A Photographic History||21|
|Afterword: Seventy-five Years of Scopes||57|
Posted May 1, 2001
Lost in the many legendary treatments of the Scopes trial are the details of the local context. Every event of mythic proportions about ideas also involves ordinary people in real surroundings. This brief photographic history provides that background, while correcting many of the popular misconceptions about the trial. This book contains many worthwhile details of how the case came to occur in Dayton, Tennessee and the lasting effects on Tennessee. The legislature continued to toy with evolution as a subject, even in the 1990s. The case itself was pretty much a put-up job. Dayton had been on the economic skids for years. The ACLU wanted a test case of the new Tennessee criminal statute barring the teaching of evolution. Whoever prosecuted someone under the law could make a few extra dollars for the local community with the expected publicity. The local leaders in Dayton asked the new teacher, John Scopes, if he would be willing to go along. He was, and the rest is history. The photographs capture a sense of the town at the time, and the festival atmosphere. They are not particularly outstanding photographs, but do add a note of reality to something that is otherwise very abstract to many of us. The captions that go with them are quite extensive. I enjoyed the introduction by Edward Caudill that filled in many gaps in my understanding of the trial's background. I graded the book down one star for the considerable repetition among the introduction, the captions, and the afterword. With more editing, this could have been a more compact and vital volume. Like many important events where ideas clash, the physical reality is less important than the judicial precedent of contesting the right of ideas to be expressed in a few society. If you had a photographic history of the Magna Carta, the document itself and its application would still be the main story. The same is true of the photographs around the Scopes trial. The publicity around the case had more significance than the trial itself. It served to rally both scientific thinkers and fundamental religionists to their respective causes. How can public debate advance understanding and cooperation rather than division? That question seems to be the heritage of this famous trial. In today's world, abortion seems to be playing a similar dividing role. What is missing to create progress on such a powerfully troubling issue? May you always find the words to frame better questions, that reveal new understanding for all! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent SolutionWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.