Ira Berlin, a historian whose research and acclaimed books helped reveal the complexities of American slavery and its aftermath, died early this month in Washington. He was 77.
The New York Times writes:
In books like “Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South” (1974) and “Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America” (1998), Dr. Berlin, a longtime professor at the University of Maryland, upended simplistic notions of how slavery was practiced and what happened after it ended.
His masterpiece was “Many Thousands Gone,” Joshua D. Rothman, history department chairman at the University of Alabama, said by email. That book recounted the first two centuries of slavery in North America and stressed “how the institution varied and was experienced differently by enslaved people over time and across space,” Professor Rothman said.
“It’s impossible to finish that book and come away with the same stereotypes and preconceptions about slavery that you began it with,” he continued. “Yet even as Berlin centered the story on the struggles of people in bondage to make their own diverse worlds, he never let the reader lose sight of slavery’s fundamental cruelty. The level of difficulty in holding so much together in a coherent narrative is tremendous, and he managed it with elegant prose to boot.”
Ira Berlin was the author of the Penguin title The Making of African America and wrote the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave. Many Thousands Gone is a winner of the Bancroft Prize and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Read the rest of the NYT tribute below.