John Stauffer, professor of English and American literature and language at Harvard University, is the author of Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, published in fall 2008. This dual biography describes the transformations in the lives of these two self-made men during a major shift in cultural history, when men rejected the status quo and embraced new ideals of personal liberty.

Lincoln was born dirt poor, had less than one year of formal schooling, and became the nation's greatest president. Douglass spent the first 20 years of his life as a slave, had no formal schooling—in fact, his masters forbade him to read or write—and became one of the nation's greatest writers and activists.

His talk is titled "Douglass and Lincoln: From Dred Scott to Obama."