Author stresses the role of slaves in book at talk Wednesday in Florence

  • A professor of American history at the University of Connecticut, Manisha Sinha has written extensively on slavery and abolitionism. Submitted photo

for The Recorder
Published: 8/5/2016 4:57:17 PM

BOOK REVIEW: “The Slave’s Cause” by Manisha Sinha (Yale University Press, 784 pages, $37.50)

“The Slave’s Cause” is a large book with a large mission. Subtitled simply “A History of Abolition,” Manisha Sinha’s pioneering work brings together the many threads of America’s first and most important social movement, the effort to end slavery.

A professor of American history at the University of Connecticut, Sinha has written extensively on slavery and abolitionism. She taught for two decades at the University of Massachusetts and will appear in Florence on Wednesday.

Sinha begins by noting that Americans often have two stereotypes about the abolitionist movement — that abolitionists were extremist radicals and that abolitionists were middle-class white people performing good works to benefit African-Americans.

Her extensive research shows that the movement was much more. If abolitionists turned radical, she seems to say, it was because they were fighting a violent, irrational institution and people determined to preserve it.

And she goes out of her way to show the ways in which the abolitionist movement involved people of differing classes, nationalities, genders, and, above all, races.

“Slave resistance, not bourgeois liberalism, lay at the heart of the abolitionmovement,” she writes.

Her book simultaneously shows abolitionism as a continuous, complex movement and as the cumulative stories of many men and women with differing agendas and viewpoints.

I have mixed feelings about “The Slave’s Cause.” Part of me wishes that Sinha had been able to spend more time on each portion of her history. Every chapter — actually, almost every section of every chapter — could inspire a whole book.

I was particularly taken with Sinha’s discussion of the ways in which abolitionism inspired and interacted with feminism and her analysis of the ties between the movement and international revolutions, both in Europe and in Haiti.

I also relished her descriptions of many of the slave narratives written in the 19th century. Sinha has turned up many works in which former slaves described their lives, as well as many more stories of courageous battles with — and escapes from — slavery.

Although I wish she could have concentrated on such tales as these, I also realize that Sinha has done important work in linking them to her larger portrait of abolitionism. A comprehensive and vital portrait of the movement as a whole, her book will be essential reading for future students of American history.

Manisha Sinha will speak about her work at the Florence Civic Center on Park Street in Florence on Wednesday, Aug. 10, at 7 p.m. Her talk is sponsored by the David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and Underground Railroad Studies.

The event is free and open to the public.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” Visit her website,


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