James Oakes (historian)

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James Oakes
Born (1953-12-19) December 19, 1953 (age 65)
Bronx, New York City, New York, U.S.

James Oakes (born December 19, 1953) is an American historian, and is a Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York where he teaches history courses on the American Civil War and Reconstruction, Slavery, the Old South, Abolitionism and U.S. and World History. He taught previously at Princeton University and Northwestern University.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Oake attended Catholic schools in New York City, before enrolling at Baruch College, CUNY, where he earned a B.A. in history in 1974.

Oakes earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, under the late Kenneth Stampp, author of The Peculiar Institution among other notable titles.


Oakes' book The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (2007) was a co-winner of the 2008 Lincoln Prize.[2] The prize jury highlighted the book's use of a new comparative framework for understanding the careers of Lincoln and Douglass, and their respective views of race. It also noted that Oakes had succeeded in writing a scholarly work that was accessible to the general public.[2]

His more recent work focuses on emancipation and how it was implemented throughout the Southern states. In 2012 Oakes published Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865, which garnered him a second Lincoln Prize (2013).[3] David Brion Davis, writing in The New York Review of Books, identified the basic theme of Freedom National as the view that Lincoln's Republican Party had been an antislavery party both before and during the war, one which viewed defining humans as chattel as both a violation of the "freedom principle" embodied in natural and international law and a violation of the US Constitution, which defined slaves as "persons held in service". Eric Foner called the work "the best account ever written of the complex historical process known as emancipation".[4]

Oakes has also written and published many articles, encyclopedia entries, and op-eds.[1]


Oakes currently lives in Manhattan with his wife, Deborah Bohr, a health research administrator, and their son, Daniel.


  • The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders, Knopf, 1982.
  • Larry J. Griffin, Don Harrison Doyle, eds. (1995). "The South as an American Problem". The South as an American Problem. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 978-0-8203-1752-6.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  • Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South. W. W. Norton & Company. 1998. ISBN 978-0-393-31766-4.
  • The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics. W. W. Norton & Company. 2007. ISBN 978-0-393-33065-6.
  • Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865. W. W. Norton & Company. 2012.
  • The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War, W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.


  1. ^ a b "James Oakes". Graduate Center. City University of New York. gc.cuny.edu. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  2. ^ a b "Press Release: Graduate Center Historian James Oakes Wins 2008 Lincoln Prize for the Radical and the Republican". News. Graduate Center. City University of New York. February 1, 2008. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  3. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (February 12, 2013). "Lincoln Prize Winner Announced". New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  4. ^ Davis, David Brion (June 6, 2013). "How They Stopped Slavery: A New Perspective". (preview only; subscription required). The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2015-03-09.

External links[edit]

  • Tom Mackaman interview with James Oakes on World Socialist Web Site, 18 November, 2019. Retrieved 10 December, 2019. [1]