Location: Bowdoin / Patrick Rael


Patrick Rael

Professor of History

Contact Information

211C Hubbard Hall

Current teaching schedule available on the public course finder.

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).  Prof. Rael blogs for We're History and the African American Intellectual History Society.

Prof. Rael has earned fellowships from, aPatrick Raelmong others, 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.

Prof. Rael has an established record in history education.  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 Council’s Teaching American History institutes).  


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:  The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015).

Eighty-Eight Years
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? The decline of slavery throughout the Atlantic world was a protracted affair, but no other nation endured anything like the United States. Here the process took from 1777, when Vermont wrote slavery out of its state constitution, to 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery nationwide.  This book immerses readers in the mix of social, geographic, economic, and political factors that shaped this unique American experience. It not only takes a far longer view of slavery’s demise than do those that date it to the rise of abolitionism in 1831, it also places it in a broader Atlantic context. We see how slavery ended variously by consent or force across time and place and how views on slavery evolved differently between the centers of European power and their colonial peripheries—some of which would become power centers themselves.  I show how African Americans played the central role in ending slavery in the United States. Fueled by new Revolutionary ideals of self-rule and universal equality—and on their own or alongside abolitionists—both slaves and free blacks slowly turned American opinion against the slave interests in the South. Secession followed, and then began the national bloodbath that would demand slavery’s complete destruction.

African-American Activism before the Civil War: The Freedom Struggle in the Antebellum North (Routledge, 2008).

African-American Activism Historians have long understood that racial oppression in American history was about more than slavery. On the eve of the Civil War, over five per cent of the nation's 4.5 million African Americans lived outside of bondage in the nominally 'free' states of the Union. These African Americans exercised a power in national discussions over slavery that far outstripped their number in the population. Their efforts at community building and radical protest were one force that helped propel the nation to civil war, and ultimately led to the extinction of slavery. African-American Activism before the Civil War is the first work to gather together scholarly essays published from 1965 to the present on the role of African Americans and race in the struggle for equality in the northern states before the Civil War. Many of these essays are already known as classics in the field, and others are well on their way to becoming definitive in a still evolving field. Here, in one place, anchored by a comprehensive, analytical introduction discussing the historiography of antebellum black activism, the best scholarship on this crucial minority of African American activists can now be studied together.

"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 Listen to Professor Rael's interview on Against the Grain »

Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African-American Protest Literature, 1790-1860 (Routledge, 2000).

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

I am a co-editor for the series "Race in the Atlantic World" by the University of Georgia Press. Click here for the flyer, or contact me if you have a manuscript that might fit in the series.

I am priviledged to have been named an OAH Distinguished Lecturer.  If you are interested in a speaker for the Civil War sesquicentennial, I hope you'll be in touch.