A Self-Paced Course

The emancipation of four million slaves during the Civil War was the single most revolutionary social transformation in American history. Most accounts focus on the Emancipation Proclamation and oversimplify a process that took generations to complete. Join Gilder Lehrman and James Oakes of Graduate Center of the City University of New York to look deeper at the complex process of emancipation and the efforts of thousands of men and women struggling for freedom before and during the Civil War.

In this video, meet Professor James Oakes:

Explore antislavery movements from the American Revolution to Reconstruction, including

  • the “first emancipation” during the American Revolution
  • the growth of an antislavery movement committed to ending slavery through federal policies
  • the implementation of these policies and their aftermath during Reconstruction
  • and the social history of emancipation

This course considers not only the policymakers in Washington, but the role of slaves and Union soldiers in the wartime emancipation process, the obstacles to emancipation, and the postwar struggle to secure freedom and expand its meaning.

Course Content

This courses consists of two types of sessions:

  • Six seminar sessions with Professor Oakes
  • Four pedagogy sessions with a Gilder Lehrman Master Teacher
  • Primary source readings that supplement Professor Oakes' lectures
  • A certificate of completion for 15 hours of professional development credit


  • The suggested readings for each seminar session are listed on the “Resources” tab on the course site. 
  • 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 Emancipation or the Gilder Lehrman self-paced course program, please click here to contact us.

  Lead Scholar

James Oakes

Early in his career James Oakes published two books on the history of slavery in the antebellum South but later shifted his attention to the history of the antislavery movement, beginning with The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (2007) and, most recently, The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War (2014). In 2013 he published a major study of emancipation, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 18611865, which was awarded that year’s Lincoln Prize. Professor Oakes has taught at Princeton and Northwestern Universities and is currently Distinguished Professor and Graduate School Humanities Professor at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York.