James Oakes (historian)

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James Oakes
Born (1953-12-19) December 19, 1953 (age 63)
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]

Oakes 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. His 2008 book, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics was a co-winner of the 2008 Lincoln Prize.[2]


Oakes' The Radical and the Republican (2007) is notable for presenting a new framework with which to compare Lincoln and Douglass and their views of race. The Lincoln Prize jury also noted that Oakes succeeded in creating a scholarly work which was accessible to the general public.

His more recent work focuses on Emancipation and how it was implemented throughout the Southern states. Oakes has written and published many articles, encyclopedia entries, and Op-Eds.[3]

David Brion Davis, writing in The New York Review of Books, identified the basic theme of Freedom National (2012) 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 currently lives in Manhattan with his wife, Deborah Bohr, a health research administrator, and their son, Daniel.



  1. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20120310120027/http://web.gc.cuny.edu/history/pages/profs/oakes.html (retrieved March 10, 2012)
  2. ^ THE GRADUATE CENTER, CUNY: Press Information
  3. ^ Oakes, James (November 20, 2008). "What's So Special About a Team of Rivals?". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ David Brion Davis (June 6, 2013). "How They Stopped Slavery: A New Perspective". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2015-03-09. 

External links[edit]