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Ira Berlin (born 1941) is an American historian, a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, and a past President of the Organization of American Historians. Berlin is the author of such books as Many Thousands Gone and Generations of Captivity. He serves as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Berlin received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970. He has written extensively on American history and the larger Atlantic world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Berlin has focused in particular on the history of slavery in the United States. His first book, Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South, was awarded the Best First Book Prize by the National Historical Society.[1] In 2003 he also was the chief advisor of the HBO film "Unchained Memories"

Berlin has long been concerned with studying what he termed the "striking diversity" in African-American life under slavery--a diversity which, he argues, is especially evident when one is attentive to differences over space and time.[2] In his 1998 book Many Thousands Gone, which covers the history of North American slavery up through the 1700s, Berlin differentiates between four regions and their respective slave regimes: the Chesapeake, the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, the Lower Mississippi Valley, and the North. He then explores each of these regions in terms of three distinct "generations," thus emphasizing shifts over time. Berlin argues that geographic and temporal differences in the first two centuries of North American slavery had important consequences for African American culture and society.

He is the founder of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, which he directed until 1991. The project's multi-volume Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation (1982, 1985, 1990, 1993) has twice been awarded the Thomas Jefferson Prize of the Society for the History of the Federal Government as well as the J. Franklin Jameson Prize of the American Historical Association for outstanding editorial achievement. (October, 1999)


  1. Ira Berlin, University of Maryland, Department of History
  2. Ira Berlin, "Time, Space, and the Evolution of Afro-American Society on British Mainland North America," American Historical Review, Vol. 85, No. 1, (Feb.1980). Quotation on 45.

Selected works[]

  • Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (The New Press, 1974 and 2007) ISBN 978-1-59558-173-0. Tells the story of the quarter of a million free black men and women who lived in the South before the Civil War, portraying “with careful scholarship, acute analysis, and admirable historical imagination” (The New Republic) their struggle for community, economic independence, and education within an oppressive society.
  • Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Harvard University Press, 1998). Recipient of the 1999 Bancroft Prize (Columbia University); Winner of the 1999 Elliott Rudwick Prize of the Organization of American Historians; Winner of the 1999 Frederick Douglass Prize for the Best Book on Slavery; Association of American Publishers 1998 Professional/Scholarly Publishing Annual Award in the Category of History; Finalist, 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction; co-Winner of the Southern Historical Association's Frank L. and Harriet C. Owsley Award for 1999; 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
  • Families and Freedom: A Documentary History of African-American Kinship in the Civil War Era Edited By Ira Berlin And Leslie S. Rowland (New Press) ISBN 978-1-56584-026-3 (1996) and ISBN 978-1-56584-440-7 (1998)
  • Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves (Harvard University Press, 2003). Winner of the 2003 Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association and the 2004 Anisfeld-Wolf Book Award for nonfiction.
  • The Black Military Experience by Ira Berlin Cambridge Univ Pr 1985 ISBN 978-0-521-22984-5 A collection of first-hand accounts drawn from the extensive records of the National Archives. A social history of black soldiers, it explains how black military service helped to destroy slavery and how soldiering shaped the life of black people during and after the war.
  • Cultivation and Culture: Labor and the Shaping of Slave Life in the Americas (Carter G. Woodson Institute Series in Black Studies) edited by Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan. University Press of Virginia 1993 Essays set the agenda for scholarshhip in the following decade; reveal the full complexity of the institution of chattel bondage in the New World and suggest why and how slavery varied from place to place and time to time. ISBN 978-0-8139-1424-4
  • FREEDOM A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867. Selected From the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States. Series One, Volume Three. The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South. Edited by Ira Berlin, Thavolia Glymph, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, Leslie S. Rowland and Julie Saville. 937 pp. 1991 Cambridge University Press.The New York Times book review by Eric Foner


See also[]

  • Organization of American Historians
  • History of slavery
Year Film Role Other notes
2003 Unchained Memories Reader


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