Many Thousands Gone: Tribute to Ira Berlin

“[B]inary opposites fit nicely the formulation of history as written, but they do little to capture the mess, inchoate reality of history as live.” ~ Ira Berlin

On June 5, 2018, Ira Berlin passed away at age 77, in the Washington, D. C. area. He was an award-winning historian and Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Maryland. His work focused on African-American slavery and the African Diaspora during the 16th-18th centuries. Berlin has written many influential books that include Slaves without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (1975), Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (1998), and The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (2010). Berlin has won numerous awards for his scholarship relating to American slavery, which includes the Bancroft Prize, Elliott Rudwick Prize, Albert J. Beveridge Award, and the Anisfeld-Wolf Book Award. He also served as President of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) from 2002-2003 and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004.

“The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States” presentation by Dr. Ira Berlin at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. on February 10, 2016.

Ira Berlin was born on May 27, 1941, in New York City and raised in the Bronx. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Berlin taught at the University of the District of Columbia and at Princeton University, before joining the history department at the University of Maryland in 1976. While at the University of Maryland, Berlin founded the Freedmen and Southern Society Project to research and produce scholarship relating to the emancipation of enslaved men and women in America. Under Berlin’s guidance, the Freedmen and Southern Society Project produced the multi-volume series Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867 that utilized several records from the National Archives. This series was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government and the J. Franklin Jameson Prize of the American Historical Association for outstanding editorial achievement.

Ira Berlin contributed to several educational publications and programs at the National Archives. In 1997, he wrote the dedication, “In Memory of Sara Dunlap Jackson, May 28, 1919-April 19, 1991” for the Prologue: Special Issue on the use of federal records in African American historical research. In February 2016, the National Archives was honored to have Berlin discuss his most recent book, The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States (2015). See the video below for the full presentation.

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