Black Writers in American History

A Self-Paced Course

Through exemplary works of literature, this course examines the writings of African American poets, novelists, and essayists, and considers how their perspectives have shaped history for all Americans. Professor John Stauffer of Harvard University introduces participants to literary works that stretch across American history, including (but not limited to) the writings of Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Course Content

This course consists of:

  • Six seminar sessions led by Professor John Stauffer
  • Three pedagogy sessions led by a Gilder Lehrman Master Teacher
  • Primary source readings that supplement Professor Stauffer's lectures
  • A certificate of completion for 15 hours of professional development credit


The optional readings for each seminar session are listed on the “Resources” tab on the course page.

  • Please note: Participants are not required to read or purchase any print materials. Quizzes are based on the content of the seminar recordings rather than the readings.



Course Access

  • After your purchase, you may access your course by signing in and visiting the Community tab at the top of the Gilder Lehrman Institute homepage. 


If you have additional questions about Black Writers in American History or the Gilder Lehrman Self-Paced Course Program, please click here to contact us.

Lead Scholar

John Stauffer

John Stauffer is a professor of English and American literature, American studies, and African American studies at Harvard University. He teaches courses on protest literature, emancipation, southern literature, Douglass and Lincoln, the Civil War, the nineteenth-century novel, and historical fiction. In 2009, Harvard named him the Walter Channing Cabot Fellow for “achievements and scholarly eminence in the fields of literature, history or art.” He has received two teaching awards from Harvard: the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award and the Jan Thaddeus Teaching Prize. Professor Stauffer was raised in Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota and was educated in public schools. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Duke University and working briefly in finance, he received an MA in humanities from Wesleyan University and an MA in American studies from Purdue University before pursuing his PhD.