Rediker, Marcus 1951-

views updated

Rediker, Marcus 1951-


Born October 14, 1951, in Owensboro, KY; son of Buford and Faye Rediker; married Wendy Z. Goldman, 1983; children: Ezekiel Kalman Rediker, 1987, and Eva Jane Rediker, 1990. Education: Attended Vanderbilt University, 1969-71; Virginia Commonwealth University, B.A., 1976; University of Pennsylvania, M.A., 1978, Ph.D., 1982.


Office—Department of History, University of Pittsburgh, 3708 Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Agent—Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, PMB 515, 1155 Camino del Mar, Del Mar, CA 92104-2605. E-mail—[email protected]


Historian, writer, teacher, and activist. Georgetown University, Washington, DC, began as assistant professor, became associate professor, 1982-94; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, associate professor, beginning 1994, became Professor and Chair in the Department of History. University of Akron, Akron, OH, Department of History, George W. Knepper Lecture, 2002; University of Nebraska, Omaha, Department of History, Richard Dean Winchell Lecture, 2004; University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, F. Ross Johnson Connaught Distinguished Visitor, 2005; College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, Wachovia Distinguished Lecture, 2006. Contributor of papers and presentations at numerous conferences worldwide.


American Historical Association, American Studies Association, Institute of Early American History and Culture, Organization of American Historians, Social Science History Association, Pen American Center.


Fellowship, National Endowment for Humanities, 1988; fellowship, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 1988; John Lyman Book Award in American Maritime History, North American Society for Oceanic History, 1988, for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Merle Curti Award in Social History, Organization of American Historians, 1988, for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; John Hope Franklin Prize, American Studies Association, 1988, for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Founder's Day Award (Distinguished Alumnus Award), College of Arts and Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1991; Keith Matthew Prize, Canadian Nautical Research Society, 1992, for Jack Tar in History: Essays in the History of Maritime Life and Labour; International Labor History Book Prize, International Labor History Association, 2001; Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians, 2002; fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 2005; fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities, 2005; George Washington Book Prize, Glider Lehrman Institute, 2008; Merle Curti Award, Organization of American Historians, 2008, for The Slave Ship.


Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1987.

(With others) Who Built America? Working People and the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society, Volume 1: From Conquest and Colonization through Reconstruction and the Great Uprising of 1877, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Peter Linebaugh) The Many-headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2000.

Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age, 1716-1726, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2004.

The Slave Ship: A Human History, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.

(Editor, with Emma Christopher and Cassandra Pybus) Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2007.

Works represented in numerous anthologies, including Maritime Empires: The Operation and Impact of Nineteenth-Century British Imperial Trade, edited by David Killingray, Margarette Lincoln, and Nigel Rigby, Boydell & Brewer (Suffolk, England), 2004; Sea Changes: Historicizing the Ocean, edited by Bernhard Klein and Gesa Mackenthun, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003; and Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920, edited by Margaret S. Creighton and Lisa Norling, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1996. Contributor to periodicals, including American Historical Review, International Journal of Maritime History, William and Mary Quarterly, Reviews in American History, Social History, and Radical History Review. Contributor of poetry to journals, including Illuminations: An International Magazine of Contemporary Writing and Overland.


Marcus Rediker's career as a historian has focused on maritime history, despite his having grown up nowhere near the sea. His specific interest is history from the perspective of the working class. He explained in an interview with Mark Thwaite of the Ready Steady Book Web site: "When I entered graduate school in the mid-1970s I wanted to … use legal records to write the history of working people who left no records of their own." Rediker's pursuit was influenced in large part by his Southern, working-class upbringing; his family members include miners, factory workers, and farmers, and he himself spent several years working in a factory between colleges.

Rediker first became interested in pirates in the context of labor rights, with the idea of the pirate lifestyle liberating otherwise tyrannized sailors. The reason for this, he told Joshua Glenn of the Boston Globe, was that "sailors usually joined pirate ships after laboring on merchant and naval ships, where they suffered from poor food, brutal discipline, low wages, and premature death. Pirates elected their officers, divided their loot more or less equally, limited the authority of their captains, and maintained a multicultural, multiracial, and multinational—even antinational—society. This was as close to utopia as working people could get."

In his first book, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750, Rediker presents his analysis of life at sea in the eighteenth century. He describes the working and personal lives of captains, sailors, and pirates alike. Valerie Burton, a reviewer for the Business History Review, found the book "less a study in maritime history and more a venture into the new labor history." Despite what Burton called less-than-satisfactory use of sources, she described Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea as "stimulating and provocative … entertaining and informative. It deserves a wide readership."

In Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age, 1716-1726, Rediker asserts that the eighteenth-century pirate vessel was a democratic workplace that was guided not only by the lure of gold, but by defiance toward racist, sexist, and capitalist conventions. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Villains of All Nations a "penetrating background to our enduring cultural fascination with the seafaring outlaws." Caroline Leavitt of the Boston Globe described the book as "enormous fun, swashbuckling through myths and firsthand accounts, and alive with [Rediker's] obvious respect for pirates."

Written with Peter Linebaugh, The Many-headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic traces the history of the working class and slave laborers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who traveled the Atlantic in a bid for freedom and a fight against the ruling class. Colin Kidd, writing for the Journal of World History, called The Many-headed Hydra "a stimulating and pioneering work which makes a significant contribution to the study of history from a global perspective." In Capital & Class, John Michael Roberts commended the book as "a breathtaking account of the historical foundations of globalisation…. The authors have presented a truly phenomenal expose of capitalism whilst demonstrating the humanity that capital must face in its global plunder of value." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly stated: "This book provides a unique window onto early modern capitalist history. The authors are to be commended not only for recovering the voices of obscure folk, but also for connecting them to the overarching themes of the age of revolution."

Who Built America? Working People and the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society, of which Rediker was coauthor of the first volume, tracks the history of the United States from its colonization through the Civil War from the perspective of the working class, thus deviating from most traditional historical textbooks that focus on history from the perspective of the ruling class. The book was a production of the American Social History Project, an organization dedicated to promoting American social history to general readers. Alex Keyssar of the Nation wrote that Who Built America? is "an extremely insightful and thoughtful compendium of social and labor history, skillfully interwoven with a far more critical than usual political history of the nation."

In The Slave Ship: A Human History, Rediker explores the different groups that were involved in the maintenance of a slave ship and how they related to one another at the height of the slave trade. He addresses the question of the relationship between the ship's captain and his crew, as well as the relationship between that crew and the slaves, and how the captives themselves related to one another over the course of the undoubtedly terrifying journey as they were transported to Africa and the Americas and elsewhere. The slaves, of course, were treated as property instead of as human beings. Rediker recounts tales of the way captains and crews abused the people in the hold. Acts of rebellion were stopped by tying individuals to the mast to slowly die without food or water, or by feeding human organs from others who had been executed to the troublemakers. In one instance, the captain of a ship, upon the orders of the London-based merchant to whom he was delivering his cargo, branded each of the slaves with the initials of his wife and daughter. In an equally gratuitous and horrifying example, a slave woman was dangled overboard, her feet allowed to submerge in the water. When they pulled her back onto the ship, they discovered that a shark had simply bitten off the lower half of her body. The blood and death on the ships was so extensive that sharks routinely followed them as they cut through the ocean.

Not just the slaves suffered on these journeys, as the captains of these vessels were known to starve their crews in order to lessen the expenses of the trip and ensure that they kept more profit at the other end. In some cases, captains left their crews or parts of them stranded on an island to avoid having to pay them their wages. In the course of his research, Rediker delved deeply into the known records pertaining to these slaveship voyages in order to learn the dynamics as they played out during the trip. In addition, he shows an interest in those individuals that are typically left out of such a description, including the common seamen who were often illiterate and had no opportunity to chronicle their experiences, and the enslaved women, who were even less able to offer up their own view of the situation. Finally, Rediker considers how the ship was not just a means of transporting the new slaves to market where they could be sold, but it was a way to prepare these stolen individuals for the harsh realities of their new lives. Ultimately, his book shows the varied people that were touched by the cruelty and the inhumanity that resulted from the slave trade.

Christopher Leslie Brown, in a review for the Nation Online, noted that Rediker referred to his work by the subtitle "‘human history.’ By this he means, in the first place, that there are people in the story—not aggregates, not statistics, not categories, but individuals. His approach stands in sharp contrast to the mode of analysis that has dominated the study of the Atlantic slave trade since the late 1960s, when historians began to seek reliable numbers—the number of captives shipped from Africa, mortality rates in the middle passage, sex ratios on board slave ships, average rates of profit, the relative importance of specific ports of embarkation in Africa and arrival in the Americas." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly declared that "painful as this powerful book often is, Rediker does not lose sight of the humanity of even the most egregious participants." Colin Woodard, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, concluded that "Rediker views events with a Marxist's eye, emphasizing the tension between capital and labor, enslaved or otherwise. But one doesn't need to ascribe to this paradigm to appreciate the underlying warning that unfettered capitalism and trade are not virtuous in and of themselves." In a review for Library Journal, Thomas J. Davis declared that Rediker's effort is "imaginatively conceived, expertly researched, humanely informed, and movingly written."

Over the course of his career, Rediker has been involved in movements against the Vietnam War, the U.S. support of military-controlled governments in Central America in the 1980s, and South African apartheid. He has also worked to put an end to capital punishment, specifically on the case of death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. On his home page, Rediker explains the link between his research and his endeavors as an activist: "The kind of history I study and write, which is variously called peoples' history, social history, or ‘history from below,’ shows that working people and their movements have, over time, been active, creative forces in the making of history. I believe that we can learn from this kind of history, that we can find inspiration in it, that we can use it as we work toward a more just and humane future." In such a way, his work as a historian and an activist has melded "the study of movements from below with the making of movements from below."



Directory of American Scholars, 10th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Albion, spring, 2002, Richard Connors, review of The Many-headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, p. 98.

Australian Journal of Politics and History, September, 2002, Nicholas Rogers, review of The Many-headed Hydra, p. 412.

Booklist, June 1, 2004, Jay Freeman, review of Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age, 1716-1726, p. 1689.

Boston Globe, June 13, 2004, Joshua Glenn, "Swashbuckle While You Work," p. H2; June 27, 2004, Caroline Leavitt, "The Refuge of Radicalism," p. D9.

Business History Review, summer, 1988, Valerie Burton, review of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750, pp. 320-321.

Canadian Journal of History, December, 2001, James Seay Dean, review of The Many-headed Hydra, p. 513.

Capital & Class, spring, 2003, John Michael Roberts, review of The Many-headed Hydra, pp. 177-179.

Christian Science Monitor, October 9, 2007, "The Horrors of ‘The Slave Ship’," p. 16.

Economist, July 31, 2004, review of Villains of All Nations, p. 73.

English Historical Review, April, 2002, Peter Thompson, review of The Many-headed Hydra, p. 396.

History: Review of New Books, winter, 2001, Michal McHamon, review of The Many-headed Hydra, p. 90.

Journal of American and Comparative Cultures, fall-winter, 2002, Colin Kidd, review of The Many-headed Hydra, p. 412.

Journal of Southern History, February, 2003, Peter H. Wood, review of The Many-headed Hydra, p. 148.

Journal of World History, fall, 2002, Colin Kidd, review of The Many-headed Hydra, pp. 512.

Labour/Le Travail, fall, 2003, Marcel van der Linden, review of The Many-headed Hydra, p. 235.

Library Journal, September 15, 2007, Thomas J. Davis, review of The Slave Ship: A Human History, p. 72.

Nation, July 2, 1990, Alex Keyssar, review of Who Built America? Working People and the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society, pp. 24-27.

New Statesman, September 3, 2001, Stephen Howe, "A Ship of Fools," p. 40; September 13, 2004, Frank McLynn, "The Democrats of the High Seas," p. 53.

Publishers Weekly, September 4, 2000, review of The Many-headed Hydra, p. 92; April 19, 2004, review of Villains of All Nations, p. 51; July 30, 2007, review of The Slave Ship, p. 67.


Marcus Rediker Home Page, (November 12, 2004), biography and curriculum vitae.

Nation Online, (January 17, 2008), Christopher Leslie Brown, "Little Ship of Horrors."

Ready Steady Book Web site, (November 12, 2004), Mark Thwaite, interview with Marcus Rediker.