8. Self-Paced Courses for Teachers and the General Public

Self-Paced Courses offer graduate-level online instruction in American history by eminent historians. This curation of courses will allow you to learn more about the Declaration of Independence through the study of the document itself and its context, intellectual precursors, and legacies. Courses are available to watch or listen to on your own time and at your own pace.

Declaration of Independence with Professor Eric Slauter, University of Chicago

Investigate the origins, meanings, and contested legacies of one of the most consequential political documents in world history. What does the Declaration of Independence declare? What did the Declaration’s language of equality, liberty, and rights mean to its authors and earliest readers? How and why have understandings of the document changed over time? And what place do the words and ideals of the Declaration hold now, 250 years later?

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America’s First Civil Rights Movement with Professor Kate Masur, Northwestern University

Explore the little-known movement for racial equality in the free states from the nation’s founding to the Civil War and Reconstruction. While the abolitionist movement is a familiar part of many history courses, we’ve known far less about activists’ fight for racial justice in the free states themselves. The course emphasizes African Americans’ leadership in this struggle; the interpenetration of race, class, and gender oppression; the complex history of citizenship; the changing political landscape of the antebellum United States, and the US Constitution.

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Democracy in the Early Republic with Professor Andrew Robertson, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Explore the evolving concept of democracy in the early American republic from the 1790s to the eve of the Civil War, when the possibilities of the revolution were first explored and tested. Through primary source documents and virtual field trips, participants will examine how changes in presidential elections, popular press, and the emerging political issues of the period influenced the structure and values of American democracy.

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Revolutionary America with Professor Denver Brunsman, George Washington University

The American Revolution is arguably the most significant event in US history. Put simply, without the Revolution, the United States as we know it would not exist. And yet, the Revolution is also one of the events in American history most misunderstood by the general public. It is a much more complex, surprising event than most Americans realize. Participants will gain insight into new scholarly approaches to traditional subjects, including American resistance to British rule, the decision for independence, and America’s victory in the Revolutionary War.

In addition, participants will consider marginalized figures and groups, including loyalists, women, African Americans, and American Indians, who challenge conventional interpretations of the Revolution. Finally, the course examines how the Revolution gave birth to a new—and fractious—style of politics under the Articles of Confederation and US Constitution. In this course, participants will engage in a project as timeless as the Revolution itself: interpreting what exactly American independence meant for the inhabitants of North America and the world.

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The Age of Jefferson with Professor Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia

Join the Gilder Lehrman Institute and University of Virginia professor Peter Onuf to explore Jefferson’s career and thought, and discover the momentous developments that defined Jefferson’s Age, from the imperial crisis through his presidency. Jefferson’s eloquent writings illuminate the history of resistance, revolution, and nation-making that led once-loyal subjects of King George III to claim an independent place among “the powers of the earth.”

The Declaration of Independence articulates the fundamental principles on which the new American nation was founded. Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s author, played a crucial role in the Revolution that destroyed the British Empire and in the creation of a new republican regime that he and his fellow founders hoped would initiate a “new order of the ages.”

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The American Enlightenment with Professor Caroline Winterer, Stanford University

The Enlightenment is often associated with Europe, but in this course we will explore how the specific conditions of eighteenth-century North America—slavery, the presence of large numbers of Indigenous peoples, a colonial political context, and even local animals, rocks, and plants—also shaped the major questions and conversations of the time. We will examine how Enlightenment ideas directly influenced the American Revolution’s commitment to liberty, natural rights, separation of powers, and the pursuit of happiness—and how those ideas crept into almost every other area of American life as well.

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The History of American Protest with Professor John Stauffer, Harvard University

This course examines the rich tradition of protest literature in the United States from the American Revolution to the present. The primary focus is on three enduring strands of protest: civil rights (beginning with antislavery); women’s rights; and workers’ rights. Using a broad definition of protest literature, it pays particular attention to the cultural production and consumption of dissent as a powerful voice of both individuals and movements. Throughout this course, you will examine a wide range of print, visual, and oral forms of dissent, and explore how various expressions of dissent function as political, ideological, rhetorical, aesthetic, and performative texts within specific contexts.

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Women in the American Revolution with Professor Carol Berkin, Baruch College, CUNY

This course examines the many roles women played in the War for Independence, from the earliest protests and boycotts to the American victory at Yorktown. It also looks at the changing gender roles and ideal—from “notable housewife” to “Republican woman” spurred by women’s participation in the creation of the new republic. The course does not focus solely on white women who favored independence. It also looks at the impact on the course of the war of Native American, African American, and Loyalist women as well as the impact of the colonial victory on their communities and their lives. Over the course of these lectures you will encounter—probably for the first time—women propagandists, poets, and fund-raisers; thousands of women who traveled with the army; and the many spies, messengers, soldiers, and saboteurs who risked their lives to aid the political cause they embraced.

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Black Lives in the Founding Era with Professor James Basker, Barnard College, Columbia University

In this course, Professor James Basker and a number of guest speakers restore to view the lives and writings of a wide array of African Americans in the period 1760 to 1800. Drawing on rare and long-forgotten texts, we will focus on prominent individuals such as Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker, Jupiter Hammon, Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, Prince Hall, and James Forten, along with others who lived more ordinary lives—Black soldiers, formerly enslaved people petitioning the government, women both enslaved and free, religious and civic leaders, and writers of early slave narratives.

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