Location: Bowdoin / Patrick Rael


Patrick Rael

Professor of History
(on leave for the 2016-17 academic year)

Contact Information


Hubbard Hall - 211C

Patrick Rael (pro. "rail") is a specialist in African-American history (1995 Ph.D. in American History, University of California, Berkeley).  He is the author of numerous essays and books, including Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (North Carolina, 2002), which earned Honorable Mention for the Frederick Douglass Prize from the Gilder Lerhman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition.  He is also the editor of African-American Activism before the Civil War: The Freedom Struggle in the Antebellum North (Routledge, 2008), and co-editor of Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African-American Protest Literature (Routledge, 2001).  His most recent book, Eighty-Eight Years: The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865 (University of Georgia Press, 2015), explores the Atlantic history of slavery to understand the exceptionally long period of time it took to end chattel bondage in America (you can read more about the project here). 

Rael has received fellowships from the Library of Congress; Smithsonian Institution; American Historical Association; Gilder Lerhman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (Yale U.); the Center for the Study of Religion (Princeton U.); American Antiquarian Society; and Library Company of Philadelphia. He is a co-editor for the series Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900 by the University of Georgia Press, and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

Rael's established record in history education is well documented.  He has explored the uses of technology in teaching history through his online simulation of the fugitive slave experience, and has long collaborated with Bowdoin’s Information Technology Division to create historical maps using GIS.  His online writing guides have assisted student writers for fifteen years.  He has written extensively about teaching, has contributed to the development of African-American history curricula, and has for over a decade led seminars and workshops on teaching American history in primary and secondary schools (notably, several of the Maine Humanities CoPatrick Raeluncil’s Teaching American History institutes). 

(If you are a K-12 student interested in emailing me for help with a history project, please read this first.)


Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley
M.A. University of California, Berkeley
B.A. University of Maryland, College Park

Research and Teaching Fields

African American, antebellum America, antislavery, Civil War and Reconstruction, comparative slavery and emancipation, war and society

My c.v. (link will open a PDF - Portable Document Format pdf)

Eighty-Eight Years
Eighty-Eight Years:  The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015).
Why did it take so long to end slavery in the United States, and what did it mean that the nation existed eighty-eight years as a “house divided against itself,” as Abraham Lincoln put it?  Setting a long view of slavery's demise amidst the Atlantic context, Eighty-Eight Years immerses readers in the mix of social, geographic, economic, and political factors that shaped the unique American experience of abolition.

"African Americans, Slavery, and Thrift from the Revolution to the Civil War." Several years ago this essay was commissioned for a collection, which was published as a chapter in Thrift and Thriving in America:  Capitalism and Moral Order from the Puritans to the Present, eds. Joshua Yates and James Davison Hunter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

"A Common Nature, A United Destiny: African-American Responses to Scientific Racism from the Revolution to the Civil War," in Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer, eds. Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism (New York: New Press, 2006), pp. 183-99.

Slavery in New York Gradually, from the 1830s onward, the fierce and fiery rhetoric of mere handfuls of radical activists began to influence the center of American politics. Slowly and painfully, the ideas of a scorned and rejected minority infiltrated public debate, polarizing public opinion, and eventually precipitating the colossal ideological battles that raged from 1848 to 1860. The antislavery ideology the Union marched to war with in April of 1861 was a hopelessly co-opted descendent of its antebellum original, yet in the maelstrom of the Civil War it was sufficient to spur the complete obliteration of the hated institution of slavery. Both that great conflict and the emancipation it demanded owed their origins to the efforts of black activists in the antebellum North.

from "A Common Nature, A United Destiny"

"The Long Death of Slavery," in Ira Berlin and Leslie Harris, eds., Slavery in New York (New York: The New Press, 2005).
Audio I was interviewed about this work on Against the Grain »

WGBH Forum Network: Memory of the Slave Trade in New England "Divine Instrumentalities for Divine Ends: African Americans, Exodus, and the Memory of Slavery in the North" (includes audio and video).

Slavery in New York Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North Pamphlets of Protest

You can follow my writing at We're History, the History News Network, and the AAIHS blog.

"The Distinction Between Slavery and Race in U.S. History," African American Intellectual History Society (November 27, 2016.

A Lepage impeachment would repeat — and reverse — impeachment’s race-based history,” Bangor Daily News (August 29, 2016).  (Listen here to me interviewed about this on The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen for WNHN FM 94.7 Concord, NH.)

Right and Wrong in ‘The Free State of Jones’: Making Sense of the Civil War Film Tradition,” Muster: Reflections on Popular Culture, Brought to you by the Journal of the Civil War Era (July 1, 2016).

"Slavery and Emancipation," exchange with Prof. Allen Guelzo, Claremont Review of Books (June 27, 2016).

"Eighty-Eight Years: The Long Death of Slavery in the United States," talk for the Maine Humanities Council (May 18, 2016).

"How Maine did — and then didn’t — play a role in the 14th Amendment," Bangor Daily News (June 19, 2016).

Guest scholar for discussion on the 14th Amendment, Maine Calling, MPBN (May 17, 2016)

Why the United States Was Late to End Slavery,” Time, December 15, 2015.  Appeared as “The United States Was Late to End Slavery,” History News Network, December 8, 2015.

Another symbol of the Confederacy falls,” African American Intellectual History Society (October 28, 2015). 

Racist Principles: Slavery and the Constitution,” We’re History (September 21, 2015).  Appeared as “Sean Wilentz is wrong about the Constitution and slavery,” History News Network (September 21, 2015).  Appeared as “Sean Wilentz is wrong about the Founders, slavery, and the Constitution,” African American Intellectual History Society (September 29, 2015).

For All the Hereafter: Obergefell v. Hodges,” We’re History (July 15, 2015).  Appeared as “For All the Hereafter: On the 14th Amendment and Clarence Thomas' Ridiculous Dissent,” CommonDreams (July 6, 2015).  Appeared as “For all the hereafter,” African American Intellectual History Society (July 5, 2015).

Bowdoin’s Patrick Rael on Joshua Chamberlain and Appomattox,” Bowdoin Daily Sun, Bowdoin College (April 9, 2015).

 “Leading Edge: Patrick Rael on the Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865,” Edge of the American West, The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 4, 2014).

Tarantino vs. Spielberg: Two films about slavery,” Edge of the American West, The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 5, 2013).

"Lincoln's Unfinished Work,” History News Network (December 13, 2012).

Writing handouts and quick guides

Help with citations

Research basics

These are accessible through the library gateway:

Click here for student-created source reports on a range of large collections at Bowdoin

Reading, Writing, and Researching for History:  A Guide for College Students

Other resources