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John Jay Online Brings History Alive: First-ever MOOC on the Literature & Law of American Slavery Opens for Registration

John Jay Online, the online education department of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, today opened registration for its first-ever MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on the Literature & Law of American Slavery. This unusual and in-depth look at one of the seminal periods of American history brings these two worlds together to paint a richly faceted picture of the era, examining how American life today is still haunted and shaped by slavery. The free, eight-week course will be taught by Pulitzer Prize-winning John Matteson, Distinguished Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The course begins on Tuesday, September 30, 2014. Registration is now open at

Professor Matteson won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his book, Edens Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. Professor Matteson has designed the MOOC as an immersive experience; students will discover what it was like to live in the troubled decades leading up to the Civil War from one of the foremost experts on that period.

“We are still processing the effects of the slaveholding era today,” said Professor Matteson. “While most of us acknowledge and understand our history, we don’t think about, or examine, how the debate over slavery changed American law and influenced literature. With this MOOC, we’re taking American slavery out of the typical textbook context to explore not just how the people who lived through it were impacted, but how it still impacts us today.”

The MOOC will address many atypical questions about American slavery, including:

  1. What were the legal principles behind slavery, and what were the arguments both for and against its legality?
  2. How did the leading American writers of the time respond to slavery, both in fiction and in nonfiction?
  3. What was slavery like from the perspective of the slave, and how did African-American writers take up the war of words on the subject?
  4. How did the Civil War inspire the authors who lived through it and saw it firsthand?
  5. Why does the institution of slavery, which was abolished in the United States in the 1860s, still matter to us today?

 Students can anticipate spending up to five hours per week in the eight-week course, which will include video lectures, readings and discussions. While of educational value to all those interested in the subject and era, the MOOC will be a particularly effective way for post-graduate candidates and those considering full-time enrollment as students to further invest in their education.

“We’re very proud to be able to offer the public a free course of this caliber,” said Dr. Feng Wang, director of John Jay Online. “Even a decade ago, this would not have been possible. Thanks to today’s technology, anyone with an Internet connection, no matter where they live, or what their educational level is, can participate in a rich academic experience with classmates from around the world, taught by one of the brightest thinkers of our time.”

To learn more and register for this free course, please visit

About The John Jay College of Criminal Justice
John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York is an international leader in educating for justice. The College offers rich liberal arts and professional studies programs  to upwards of 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. The College also offers online degrees, certificates, and individual courses in a variety of disciplines, from criminal justice and public policy to the liberal arts and sciences. For more information, please visit