History U | The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

This History U course investigates the origins, meanings, and contested legacies of one of the most consequential political documents in world history.


Course Instructor: Professor Eric Slauter, University of Chicago
Eligibility: High school students


Image Source: John Trumbull, The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, 1823 (Yale University Art Gallery 1832.3)

Painting of the signers of the Declaration of Independence
  • History U

  • Free for high school students

Course Description

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? This History U course will begin with an examination of the sources, drafting, circulation, and reception of the text in the age of the American Revolution. Once we’ve immersed ourselves in the early history of the document we’ll trace some of the key turning points in the afterlife of the document, including the deployment of the Declaration in arguments about the rights of enslaved peoples and women in antebellum America; the changing meaning of the Declaration in the era of the Civil War; the place and promise of the Declaration in contests over human rights and civil rights in the twentieth century; and the significance of the document in our own time.  

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The views expressed in this course are those of Dr. Eric Slauter.


  • Twenty-four video sessions led by Professor Eric Slauter
  • Links to optional resources
  • Short quizzes to review your knowledge
  • A certificate of completion for 12 hours of course time

How to Access

  1. Click Log In and either log into your account or click the Sign Up link on the login screen to create an account.
  2. Click the Register Now button and complete the order form.
  3. After registering, you may access your course by signing in and visiting your My Courses link under My Account.

Course Introduction


CherylAnne Amendola explains what you will learn in this course.

About the Scholar

Eric Slauter, Deputy Dean of the Humanities Division, Master of the Humanities Collegiate Division, and Associate Professor of English, University of Chicago

Professor Eric Slauter, the deputy dean of the Humanities Division and the College, is an associate professor of English at the University of Chicago. The founding director of the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture, Professor Slauter specializes in early American cultural, intellectual, and literary history, with additional research and teaching interests in a range of fields and methods. He is the author of The State as a Work of Art: The Cultural Origins of the Constitution (2009).

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