Amazing Grace: How Writers Helped End Slavery
with James G. Basker
Offered in partnership with The Morgan Library & Museum
Friday, May 15, 2015

The great Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” In no instance is this truer than in the history of writers who, through their poems, fiction, slave narratives, sermons, songs and children’s books, spread the ideas and fostered the sensibilities that would lead to the end of slavery. Among the writers to be considered are canonical figures such as Defoe, Johnson, Wheatley, Blake, Equiano, Wordsworth, Longfellow, Douglass, Alcott, Stowe, and Dickinson, as well as forgotten authors ranging from Quaker petitioners in the 1680s to the anonymous writer who published a story in 1831 predicting the first Black President of the United States. The course will examine literary texts both as historical evidence and as imaginative works that transformed the consciousness of the public.

James G. Basker is President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Professor of Literary History at Barnard College. His books include Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery 1660-1810, Early American Abolitionists: A Collection of Anti-Slavery Writings 1760-1820, and American Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation. At Gilder Lehrman, he has overseen history education initiatives nationwide, including history high schools, teacher seminars, traveling exhibitions, digital archives, and the national history teacher of the year award. He is also the founder of OxBridge Academic Programs, which sponsors summer programs and teacher seminars in Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Barcelona, and New York.