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Marcus Rediker

Historian

Marcus Rediker was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1951, to Buford and Faye Rediker, the first of their two sons. He comes from a working‑class family, with roots in the mines and factories of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia; and grew up in Nashville and Richmond.  Marcus attended Vanderbilt University, dropped out of school and worked in a factory for three years, and graduated with a B.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1976.  He went to the University of Pennsylvania for graduate study, earning an M.A. and Ph.D. in history.

Rediker taught at Georgetown University from 1982 to 1994, lived in Moscow for a year (1984-5), and is currently Professor and Chair in the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh.

He have, over the years, been active in a variety of social justice and peace movements, most recently in the worldwide campaign to abolish the death penalty.

“I am, by ancestry, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch, and Cherokee; I am, by upbringing, a Southerner; I am, by generation, of the New Left; I am, by choice, a citizen of the world.”

Marcus Rediker has written (or co-written) five books: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1987), Who Built America? (1989), volume one; The Many-Headed Hydra (2000), Villains of All Nations (2004) and The Slave Ship: A Human History (2007).  It has been his good fortune to lecture throughout the United States and abroad, in Lonndon, Paris, Amsterdam, Milan, Moscow, Sydney, and Tokyo; to have his writings translated into French, German, Greek, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish; and to hold fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment of the Humanities, and the Andrew P. Mellon Foundation. It has been his much greater good fortune to be married to Wendy Z. Goldman, a professor of Russian/Soviet history at Caregie Mellon University. They have two children, Zeke and Eva, and a -bulldog, Jellybean.

For more than three centuries slave ships carried millions of people from the coasts of Africa across the Atlantic to the New World. Much is known of the slave trade and the American plantation complex, but little of the ships that made it all possible. In The Slave Ship, award-winning historian Marcus Rediker draws on thirty years of research in maritime archives to create an unprecedented history of these vessels and the human drama acted out on their rolling decks. He reconstructs in chilling detail the lives, deaths, and terrors of captains, sailors, and the enslaved aboard a “floating dungeon” trailed by sharks. From the young African kidnapped from his village and sold to the slaver by a neighboring tribe; to the would-be priest who takes a job as a sailor on a slave ship only to be horrified by the evil he sees; to the captain who relishes having “a hell of my own,” Rediker illuminates the lives of people who were thought to have left no trace.

This is a tale of tragedy and terror, but also an epic of resilience, survival, and the creation of something entirely new, something that could only be called African-American. Marcus Rediker restores the slave ship to its rightful place alongside the plantation as a formative institution of slavery, as a place where a profound and still haunting history of race, class, and modern capitalism was made.

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