James Oakes is a two time winner of the Lincoln Prize for Civil War studies. But as he tells Colin, he initially went to college for business. An English teacher at Baruch College wisely turned him away from the world of international finance. Since then, he has made a name for himself as a scholar of 19th century history.
Jim ended up attending Berkeley for graduate school during an astounding period in the department’s history. He studied with Kenneth Stampp, whose book The Peculiar Institution Jim had read when he was still in high school. Also there at the time was Winthrop Jordan, Lawrence Levine, Charles Sellers, Charles Royster, William Gienapp, Albert Raboteau, and Leon Litwack.
Before his dissertation was even done, Jim had a contract with Knopf for a book that was based on years of archival research at Duke and Chapel Hill. That book, The Ruling Race, took on the paternalism thesis put forth by Eugene Genovese in his landmark Roll, Jordan, Roll.
Jim talks with Colin about his moves from New York to California and back again. And back again. Also, he discusses his time at Princeton and Northwestern as well as his new book, The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution, which you can purchase here: