Berlin, Ira 1941–
Berlin, Ira 1941–
PERSONAL: Born May 27, 1941, in New York, NY; son of Louis and Sylvia Toby (Lebwohl) Berlin; married Martha L. Chait, August 31, 1963; children: Lisa Jill, Richard Aaron. Education: University of Wisconsin—Madison, Ph.D., 1970.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of History, University of Maryland, 2115 Francis Scott Key Hall, College Park, MD 20742; fax: 301-314-9399. E-mail—[email protected].
CAREER: I.B. Alan, Inc., New York, NY, vice president, 1967–69; Wisconsin Magazine of History, Madison, WI, book review editor, 1969; University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, Chicago, IL, instructor in history, 1970–72; Federal City College, Washington, DC, assistant professor of history, 1972–74; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, fellow at Davis Center for Historical Studies, 1975; University of Maryland, College Park, began as associate professor of history, 1976, became distinguished university professor, also founder and former director of Freedman and Southern Society Project, former dean of undergraduate studies, and acting dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. Fulbright Bicentennial Professor, University of Paris. Project editor for National Archives. Presidential appointee, National Council on the Humanities, 2000.
MEMBER: International Sociological Association, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians (president), Southern Historical Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Younger humanist fellow, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1971; Ford Foundation fellow; Best First Book Prize, National Historical Society, 1975, and Bancroft Prize, Columbia University, both for Slaves without Masters: Free Negroes in the Antebellum South; Thomas Jefferson Prize, Society for History in Federal Government, 1987, for The Destruction of Slavery, 1991, and for The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South; J. Franklin Jameson Prize, American Historical Association, for The Black Military Experience; Lincoln Prize (co-winner), Gettysburg College, 1994, for Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War; Frederick Douglass Prize from the Gilder-Lehrman Center, Bancroft Prize from Columbia University, Owsley Prize from the Southern Historical Association, and Rudwick Prize from the Organization of American Historians, all 1999, all for Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America; "Outstanding Public Humanities Scholar of the Year" citation, Humanities Council of Washington, 1999; Albert J. Beveridge Award, American Historical Association, 2003, for Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves.
Slaves without Masters: Free Negroes in the Antebellum South, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1975.
(With others) Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War (includes the introductory essays from the first four volumes of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867), Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.
Contributor to historical journals.
(With Ronald Hoffman) Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1983.
(With Joseph P. Reidy, Leslie S. Rowland, and others) Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), Series 1, Volume 1: The Destruction of Slavery, 1985, Series 1, Volume 2: The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, 1993, Series 1, Volume 3: The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, 1990, Series 2: The Black Military Experience, 1982.
(And author of introduction) Herbert G. Gutman, Power and Culture: Essays on the American Working Class, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987.
(With Philip D. Morgan) The Slaves' Economy: Independent Production by Slaves in the Americas, Frank Cass (Portland, OR), 1991.
(With others) Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War, New Press (New York, NY), 1992.
(With Philip D. Morgan) Cultivation and Culture: Labor and the Shaping of Slave Life in the Americas, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1993.
(With Leslie S. Rowland) Families and Freedom: A Documentary History of African-American Kinship in the Civil War Era, New Press (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Joseph P. Reidy and Leslie S. Rowland) Freedom's Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Marc Favreau and Steven F. Miller) Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk about Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Freedom (with audio cassettes), New Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(General editor) Records of Southern Plantations from Emancipation to the Great Migration, Series A: Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University, University Publications of America (Bethesda, MD), 2001, Series B: Selections from the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Louisiana State University Libraries, University Publications of America (Bethesda, MD), 2002, Series C: Selections from the South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, LexisNexis (Bethesda, MD), 2004.
(With Leslie S. Harris, and author of introduction) Slavery in New York, New Press (New York, NY), 2005.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Social Structure of Nineteenth-Century Southern Cities.
SIDELIGHTS: Beginning in the 1980s, historian, educator, and writer Ira Berlin "resolutely transformed the ways by which we understand early American slavery," wrote Graham Russell Hodges in an America review of Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. In this title and the subsequent Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves, Berlin delineates generations of evolution in the process of enslaving Africans throughout North America, from the earliest colonies to the era of the Civil War. Berlin, specified Hodges in his review of Many Thousands Gone, "has painstakingly moved attempts to comprehend the conditions of enslavement from a monolithic, timeless portrayal to specific examination of when and where slavery existed." The culmination of this study, according to the critic, is a body of writings that represent "a profound redirection of all early U.S. social history." Hodges called Many Thousands Gone an "authoritative, original, beautifully organized and composed … state-of-the-art achievement." Likewise, in a Library Journal review of Generations of Captivity, Randall M. Miller observed that Berlin's work "has redefined how scholars approach the study of slavery and freedom in America."
Berlin is probably best known as the general editor of the multivolume set Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867. One of those volumes, The Black Military Experience, is based mainly on documents written by black soldiers during the Civil War. When it was published in 1982, Herbert Mitgang of the New York Times called The Black Military Experience "the kind of book that Civil War historians dream about." Mitgang went on to praise the editors for using "facts derived from original sources" and avoiding the current vogue for "revisionist historical psychobabble." In compiling The Black Military Experience, Berlin and associate editors Joseph P. Reidy and Leslie S. Rowland used National Archives source materials neglected for over a century. The editors examined "perhaps two million documents," explained historian Eric Foner in the New York Times Book Review. They "first selected about forty thousand for possible publication, and then whittled that group down to the four thousand or so that will appear in print. (The remainder will be made available on microfilm, along with a guide and index.)" Foner noted that "the result is a series that will transform the way historians think about slavery, the Civil War, and emancipation." The importance of "the Freedom documents," said Foner, is that they "present the statements of black soldiers and their families, as well as black ministers, educators, and political leaders" thereby "demonstrat[ing] both the possibility of writing history 'from the bottom up,' and the capacity of anonymous people to express their beliefs with eloquence and conviction."
The Destruction of Slavery, another volume in the Freedom series, was published in 1985 to equally high critical acclaim. William S. McFeeley in the Washington Post Book World explained: "This is a book not only about people seeking their emancipation, but about [black] civilians caught between warring armies." He encouraged both lay and scholarly readers to "open the book" because "you will have before you rich sources for the understanding of the complex and inspiring story of how black Americans … achieved their freedom." Leon F. Litwack writing in New York Times Book Review noted that The Destruction of Slavery "examines the evolution of Federal policy and the revolutionary process by which black men and women helped to subvert both the Confederacy and the system of slave labor on which it was based." George M. Fredrickson, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, stated that the volume's basic thesis is that the slaves were "the prime movers in securing their own liberty," contributing to "their own emancipation by deserting their masters when Union troops approached, by their willingness to provide labour for the invading forces, and by their eagerness to fight for the North's cause. By their own actions they made themselves—and their freedom—a decisive factor in the war."
Berlin has edited and written publications outside of the Freedom documentary series. With Ronald Hoffman, Berlin edited Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution. John White in the Times Literary Supplement explained that the essays collected in this work "demonstrate conclusively the centrality of the Revolution in the development of slave and free black communities, and the emergence of a single Afro-American society in which social divisions turned on status (free or slave) rather than on degrees of acculturation (Creole or African)."
In 1988, Berlin edited another contribution to American history—a collection of essays by Herbert G. Gutman titled Power and Culture: Essays on the American Working Class. Social historian Nell Irvin Painter, writing for the Washington Post Book World, called Gutman "a pioneer of social history," a "founder and leader of what is sometimes termed the 'new labor history.'" Power and Culture contains many of Gutman's previously unpublished essays. Painter observed that "Berlin's long, thoughtful introduction [to the book] provides a sharply focused picture of Gutman the man—lively, energetic, deeply and perpetually engaged—with a careful tracing of Gutman's own history." In addition, the critic stated: "Berlin probes the connections between Gutman's two major fields of inquiry, free/wage workers and enslaved workers … and explains Gutman's growing preoccupation with the totality of workers' lives."
Berlin's editing, with Marc Favreau and Steven F. Miller, of the 1998 publication Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk about Their Personal Experience of Slavery and Freedom, is, as the title suggests, an account of "slavery as the ex-slaves remember and choose to tell it," according to Miller in a Library Journal assessment. Miller felt that the work "brings slavery to life as few recent books have done." Remembering Slavery is a combination of sound recordings and transcripts. The text of more than one hundred interviews conducted from the 1920s through the 1940s with former slaves is presented alongside an audio tape of various other interviews with, and statements from, ex-slaves. "This project will enrich every American home and classroom," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who found "the tapes particularly … riveting." The words of those interviewed describe slaves' daily lives and the culture in which they lived. "The editors' interpolations are kept to a minimum and are used strictly to tie themes together, without disrupting the [interviewees'] accounts," observed Booklist contributor Vanessa Bush. A Publishers Weekly contributor considered Berlin "a master of allowing the natural drama of history to unfold." In contrast to more traditional historical accounts, Berlin's Remembering Slavery presents the history and stories of people enslaved in the United States in a more lively manner, assessed Bush, who remarked that "these stories and occurrences … are rendered far more memorable by the ex-slaves' own words."
Berlin has won numerous awards for Many Thousands Gone, first published in 1998. The work details the changing landscape of slavery over the first two centuries of European colonization of North America, ending approximately in the year 1810. Berlin does not confine his studies simply to the United States, but considers the varieties of enslavement in the Caribbean and elsewhere on the North American continent. He also presents regional and situational variations showing how slaves and masters interacted over time in these regions. In her African American Review essay on the book, Painter maintained that Berlin's work "marks a watershed in American historiography and the culmination of a struggle between two ways of seeing the power dynamics of slavery." Journal of Southern History contributor Jon Sensbach noted that Berlin "has written the best overview to date of what we know about the complex origins and development of African slavery in early America…. Few books on American slavery can match the sweep, narrative drive, and control of such a wide range of sources." In The Historian, Edward L. Ayers stated of the work: "Through his scholarship and leadership, Ira Berlin has recast the way we conceive of the history of African Americans and their relationship to other Americans." Ayers added: "It is a rare student of the American past who will not be surprised by something in virtually every chapter."
Generations of Captivity briefly recapitulates the material in Many Thousands Gone, but then expands its focus to include the nineteenth century into the Civil War years. Again, Berlin considers regional differences, products that slave labor created, and how the lives of slaves varied through both time and place. "This award-winning book is highly recommended," noted Patricia Moore in a Kliatt review. Moore also felt that the work could be easily understood by motivated high school students. In the Antioch Review, James W. Hall called Generations of Captivity "a fundamental new interpretation based on a complex portrait of slavery in America." A Publishers Weekly critic wrote that Berlin's book "offers a compact scholarly account of the transformation of a society with slaves into a slave society." Generations of Captivity won the 2003 Albert J. Beveridge Award from the American Historical Association. In 2005, by virtue of his body of work, Berlin was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African American Review, fall, 2000, Nell Irvin Painter, review of Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, p. 515.
America, April 24, 1999, Graham Russell Hodges, "Colonial Servitude," p. 17.
American Historical Review, April, 1984, p. 512.
American Visions, August-September, 1993, Gary A. Puckrein, review of Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War, p. 34; February-March, 1997, Joanne Harris, review of Families and Freedom: A Documentary History of African-American Kinship in the Civil War Era, p. 26.
Antioch Review winter, 2004, James W. Hall, review of Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves, p. 173.
Booklist, August, 1998, Vanessa Bush, reviews of Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk about Their Personal Experience of Slavery and Freedom, p. 1918, and Many Thousands Gone, p. 1931; January 1, 1999, review of Remembering Slavery, p. 778; February 15, 2003, Vernon Ford, review of Generations of Captivity, p. 1037.
Book Report, September, 1987, p. 48.
Choice, May, 1983, p. 1357; July, 1992, p. 1748.
Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 1986, p. B1; October 15, 1998, Neal M. Rosendorf, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. B6; October 15, 1998, Walter Robinson, review of Remembering Slavery, p. B6.
Civil War History, September, 2004, "Ira Berlin, University of Maryland at College Park, Received the 2003 Albert J. Beveridge Award," p. 342; March, 2005, "American Academy of Arts and Sciences," p. 122.
Commonweal, December 3, 1982, p. 661.
Foreign Affairs, November, 1998, Kenneth Maxwell, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 159.
Historian, summer, 1995, Laurence A. Glasco, review of Cultivation and Culture: Labor and the Shaping of Slave Life in the Americas, p. 549; fall, 1999, Edward L. Ayers, reviews of Many Thousands Gone and Freedom's Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War, p. 122.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 1999, James Homer Williams, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 60.
Journal of American Ethnic History, summer, 2000, Douglas R. Egerton, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 98.
Journal of American History, June, 1984, p. 119; September, 1999, J. Matthew Gallman, review of Freedom's Soldiers, p. 782.
Journal of American Studies, April, 1985, p. 126.
Journal of Economic History, September, 1992, p. 722.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, winter, 1999, Sheldon Hackney, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 525.
Journal of Social History, spring, 1987, p. 568; fall, 1994, Julie Saville, review of Cultivation and Culture, p. 213.
Journal of Southern History, February, 1984, p. 135; May, 1984, p. 304; May, 2001, Jon Sensbach, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 428; November, 2001, Paul D. Escott, review of Remembering Slavery, p. 858.
Kliatt, January, 2005, Patricia Moore, review of Generations of Captivity, p. 32.
Library Journal, September 1, 1998, Randall M. Miller, review of Remembering Slavery, p. 198; September 15, 1998, Anthony O. Edmonds, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 90; February 1, 2003, Randall M. Miller, review of Generations of Captivity, p. 100.
Michigan Historical Review, spring, 2000, Sharla M. Fett, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 149.
New Yorker, March 21, 1983, p. 132.
New York Review of Books, March 1, 1984, p. 37; December 3, 1998, Edmund S. Morgan, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 14.
New York Times, July 9, 1983, p. 11; February 21, 1994, "Back to the Library, for an Award," p. B2; July 18, 1998, Paul Lewis, "A Closer Look at Slavery's Many Stages, p. A13.
New York Times Book Review, February 13, 1983, p. 9; September 14, 1986, p. 34; January 17, 1988, p. 39; October 4, 1998, George M. Fredrickson, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 9; April 4, 1999, Johanna Berkman, review of Remembering Slavery, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, October 12, 1992, review of Free at Last, p. 58; December 2, 1996, review of Families and Freedom, p. 48; August 24, 1998, review of Many Thousands Gone, p. 40; August 31, 1998, review of Remembering Slavery, p. 59; January 20, 2003, review of Generations of Captivity, p. 67.
Reviews in American History, March, 1984, pp. 31, 40.
School Library Journal, April, 1999, Pamela Cooper-Smuzynski, review of Remembering Slavery, p. 162.
Times Literary Supplement, September 30, 1983, p. 1066; January 9, 1987, p. 31.
Washington Post, January 24, 1988.
Washington Post Book World, February 23, 1986, p. 1; January 17, 1988, Nell Irvin Painter, review of Power and Culture: Essays on the American Working Class, by Herbert G. Gutman, p. 5.
William and Mary Quarterly, January, 1985, p. 144; October, 1992, p. 712.