Manisha Sinha is professor and the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in American History. She was born in India and received her Ph.D from Columbia University where her dissertation was nominated for the Bancroft prize. She was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest honor bestowed on faculty and received the Distinguished Graduate Mentor Award in Recognition of Outstanding Graduate Teaching and Advising from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she taught for over twenty years. Her recent book The Slave’s Cause was reviewed by The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Atlantic, and The Boston Globe, among other newspapers and journals. It was featured as the Editor’s Choice of the New York Times Book Review. It was named the book of the week by Times Higher Education in May, 2016 to coincide with its UK publication and one of three Great History Books for 2016 in Bloomberg News. Her first book, The Counterrevolution of Slavery, was named one of the ten best books on slavery in Politico in 2015. In 2017, she was named one of Top Twenty Five Women in Higher Education by the magazine Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.
Sinha’s research interests lie in United States history, especially the transnational histories of slavery and abolition and the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction. She is a member of the Council of Advisors of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg, New York Public Library, co-editor of the “Race and the Atlantic World, 1700-1900,” series of the University of Georgia Press, and is on the editorial board of the Journal of the Civil War Era. She has written for The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Time Magazine, CNN, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post and been interviewed by The Times of London, The Boston Globe, and Slate. She appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in 2014. She was an adviser and on-screen expert for the Emmy nominated PBS documentary, The Abolitionists (2013), which is a part of the NEH funded Created Equal film series. Professor Sinha is on leave for the 2016-2017 academic year working on her new book on abolition and the making of Radical Reconstruction.
Areas of Expertise (3)
Columbia University: Ph.D.
Top 25 Women in Higher Education and Beyond (professional)
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education
Media Appearances (36)
Historians Correct Nikki Haley After George Washington Tweet
History professors highlighted the inaccuracies in Haley's post and joked about the number of errors she'd made. "Historian here, the Constitution created the presidency and not vice versa. But maybe the Continental Army flown into airports managed to reverse time?" wrote Manish Sinha of the University of Connecticut. Sinha was referring to remarks by former President Donald Trump about troops during the Revolutionary War taking over airports. There were no airplanes or airports in the late 18th century.
Politicians Quote Abraham Lincoln a Lot. Historians Say They Don't Always Do His Words Justice
Time Magazine print
This side of Lincoln also tends to get lost when calls for unity quote his second inaugural address from 1865, saying “with malice toward none, with charity for all” and “let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.” During the debates on whether or not to impeach Trump a second time, the Republican House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise quoted those lines to argue against a rushed impeachment and for moving forward. “What bothers me the most is the way in which people today remember Lincoln as mainly a forgiving peacemaker and quote him selectively instead of as the President who made ‘total war’ upon slavery and understood the Civil War as divine judgement for the national sin of slavery,” says Manisha Sinha, a historian at the University of Connecticut.
The Capitol Insurrection Revived The Story Of A Legendary Abolitionist
KCUR 98.3 - Kansas City radio
The namesake of Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kansas, was almost killed on the U.S. Senate floor for his "Crime Against Kansas" speech in 1856. Now, a photo from the insurrection this month has people remembering U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner's story. UConn's Manisha Sinha comments to KCUR in Kansas City.
2020 was a remarkably difficult year — not only because of the pandemic
Washington Post print
The year was, as the saying goes, one for the history books. So how will future generations look back at 2020? Many historians will see it as “a really consequential year,” Manisha Sinha, a scholar of slavery, abolition and the U.S. civil war at the University of Connecticut, predicted. News of the pandemic, economic collapse and other major events, such as the divisive U.S. election and its aftermath, seemed at times to shroud other important developments around the world. “That just goes to show,” Sinha said, the degree to which “things have been upended so much both domestically and internationally.”
What Is Trump Playing At?
New York Times print
Manisha Sinha, a professor of history at the University of Connecticut and the author of “The Counterrevolution of Slavery,” pointed out in an email that there was one time when there was a substantial rejection of the outcome of a presidential contest: "Indeed it happened in 1860 when most Deep South states refused to accept the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency on an antislavery platform and seceded from the Union."
After bitterly divided election, what's next for America
After nearly five breathless days of vote-counting, the American people -- and the world -- got the news Saturday: Joe Biden would be the next president of the United States. So, where to now, nation? CNN Opinion asked 26 commentators to consider the question: What does the outcome of this election say about America in 2020? The opinions are their own. Manisha Sinha: Be optimistic!
‘Game-Changer’: Kamala Harris Makes History As Next Vice President
WBEZ Chicago radio
Harris, 56, will bring a legion of firsts to the vice presidency: A daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, she will be the first woman, the first Black person, the first Indian American and the first Asian American to hold the office. She will also be the first graduate of a historically Black college and first member of a Black sorority to do so. “It sends a message about what kind of country we are today,” said Manisha Sinha, a professor of American history at the University of Connecticut. “An interracial democracy that represents people, men and women, from all over the globe. I think that’s a very good thing for American democracy. And for me personally, it gives me a sense of national belonging that may not have been there before to some extent.”
Fact check: Historical claims about constitutional amendments lack context
USA Today print
The remaining Democrats in Congress were divided along pro- and anti-war lines, though remained obstinate in their opposition to Republican government. “They acted like a thorn in the side of the Lincoln administration,” said Manisha Sinha, the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut and author of “The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition.”
The Meaning of Kamala Harris to Indian-Americans
Manisha Sinha, professor of American history at the University of Connecticut and the author of The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press, 2017), talks about why Joe Biden's selection of Senator Kamala Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, to be his choice for VP is so meaningful to her and other Indian-Americans.
National controversy over Native American mascots reaches Central Mass.
Worcester Telegram print
But this year, Native American advocates and their allies and academics said new awareness of systemic racism and racial identity sparked by the killing of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has added fire to the mascot debate. “It began with taking down symbols and statues and monuments of people who stood against human rights ... and I think that has led to a wider conversation about symbols and statues and monuments that may be bad,” said professor Manisha Sinha, Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut. “I think it’s good we’re having a national conversation about not demeaning people in stereotype.”
As statues of Founding Fathers topple, debate rages over where protesters should draw the line
Washington Post print
Manisha Sinha, a Civil War historian at the University of Connecticut and the author of “The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition,” said that the removal of the statues should be done after “thoughtful discussion,” rather than by “indiscriminate” action. Sinha said that by targeting Founding Fathers such as Washington and Jefferson, activists risk playing into the conservative narrative that removal of statues is a “slippery slope” toward an erasure of the country’s history.
After the Columbus statues come down, will other monuments come under scrutiny?
Hartford Courant print
University of Connecticut History Professor Manisha Sinha said the case for the removal of Yale and Mason are different because the former is on private property and the latter is on public property. “When our tax dollars are spent to maintain questionable statues then the community or government should weigh in,” Sinha said.
UW-Madison students call for removal of Abraham Lincoln statue on Bascom Hill
Wisconsin State Journal print
University of Connecticut professor and Civil War historian Manisha Sinha said she would be “horrified” if UW-Madison took Lincoln’s statue down because of his long list of redeeming qualities. She characterized the recent push to expand statue removal beyond Confederate generals and other obvious symbols of slavery to include widely celebrated individuals with complicated pasts, such as slave-owning presidents, as “misplaced.”
Should Statues Of Historic Figures With Complicated Pasts Be Taken Down?
NPR Morning Edition radio
David Greene talks to Manisha Sinha, professor of American history at the University of Connecticut, about the recent toppling of non-Confederate statues like those of George Washington.
UConn Professor Discusses Controversial Statues
NBC 30 tv
Professor Manisha Sinha is an expert on U.S. history and the impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction. She discussed her thoughts on the debates to remove controversial statues which are sweeping across the country.
Historian: With Impeachment Acquittal, the GOP Has Given Trump a Blank Check to Do Anything He Wants
Democracy Now online
We speak with Manisha Sinha, professor of American history at the University of Connecticut and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University.
“Andrew Johnson Was a Lot Like Trump”: Echoes of 1868 in Trump’s Impeachment Trial
Democracy Now online
After a nearly 13-hour marathon session, the U.S. Senate approved by a party-line vote the rules for the impeachment trial of President Trump. This marks just the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. The Senate trial comes a month after the House impeached Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.
The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts
The Atlantic print
On this question, the critics of the 1619 Project are on firm ground. Although some southern slave owners likely were fighting the British to preserve slavery, as Silverstein writes in his rebuttal, the Revolution was kindled in New England, where prewar anti-slavery sentiment was strongest. Early patriots like James Otis, John Adams, and Thomas Paine were opposed to slavery, and the Revolution helped fuel abolitionism in the North. Historians who are in neither Wilentz’s camp nor the 1619 Project’s say both have a point. “I do not agree that the American Revolution was just a slaveholders' rebellion,” Manisha Sinha, a history professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition, told me. “But also understand that the original Constitution did give some ironclad protections to slavery without mentioning it.”
7 Key Questions in the U.S. Slavery Reparations Debate
How Stuff Works online
Even after Emancipation, former slaves received no compensation for their centuries of free labor. The short-lived Reconstruction era gave former slaves a brief glimpse of the rights to vote and own land in the South, but those rights were cruelly stripped away in the Jim Crow era. "After the fall of Reconstruction, black people were subjected to a regime of racial terror in the South and were systematically disenfranchised," says Manisha Sinha, a history professor at the University of Connecticut and author of the essay "The Long History of American Slavery Reparations" in The Wall Street Journal.
Civility Is Overrated
The Atlantic print
The capitulation of Republicans restored civility between the major parties, but the political truce masked a horrendous spike in violence against freedmen. “While the parties clearly move back from confrontation with each other, you have the unleashing of massive white-supremacist violence in the South against African Americans and a systematic campaign to disenfranchise, a systematic campaign of racial terror in the South,” Manisha Sinha, a history professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, told me. “This is an era when white supremacy becomes virtually a national ideology.”
The Enduring Battle to Diversify Historical Reenactment
The New Republic print
With few exceptions, Hollywood tends to soften its messages on slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights era for white audiences. The creators of the recent Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet, have had to defend their decision to show a white man saving Harriet Tubman from a villainous black slave catcher. The moment, even as the white man remains an evil vengeful slaveowner, explores the innate complexity of humanity, the film’s defenders claim. Or was it for the comfort of white moviegoers and the ticket sales they bring? Such black slave catchers “were few and far between,” University of Connecticut historian Manisha Sinha told the History News Network in October—and far outnumbered by those “assisting fugitive slaves and in the abolitionist underground.”
The New Fugitive Slave Laws
New York Review of Books online
In the 1840s, an elderly abolitionist Ohio farmer, John Van Zandt, lost all his property for assisting nine runaway slaves from Kentucky and thus violating state and federal fugitive slave laws. His case was litigated all the way to the US Supreme Court, where it was argued by leading antislavery politicians Salmon Chase, Lincoln’s future Secretary of Treasury and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State. They lost that legal battle but would eventually win the political war against Southern slavery.
The Politics of Abolishing Slavery
New York Times print
“Stonewall and the Myth of Self-Deliverance,” by Kwame Anthony Appiah (Sunday Review, June 23), quotes from my book “The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition” to challenge simple narratives of self-liberation. While the quotation from the book, identified merely as “a recent prizewinning academic history of abolition,” is correct, it misunderstands my argument. The book does center slave resistance in the history of abolition, but it does not give short shrift to white abolitionists or to forming broader alliances with antislavery politicians and lawyers. In fact, I argue that abolition was a radical, interracial social movement that gave birth to antislavery politics.
What Was the Biggest Political Scandal in American History? 7 Historians Make Their Picks
TIME Magazine print
The Crédit Mobilier Scandal (1872) Nominated by: Manisha Sinha, professor of History at the University of Connecticut and author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition Why it was so scandalous: “It was a prime example of corrupt crony capitalism that plagued the U.S. government,” says Sinha. “The tragedy of the Crédit Mobilier scandal was that it discredited the Grant Administration, even though the President was not involved in it personally, and [by extension the Administration’s] Reconstruction policy of protecting black rights against white terror in the post-Civil War South.”
The Black Gun Owner Next Door
New York Times print
Hayden chose the activist life, fighting for the dignity of others as part of what the historian Manisha Sinha called the “shock troops” of “fugitive slave rescues,” in her book “The Slave’s Cause.” The home that the Haydens made, the one I would soon be visiting, became a refuge for the hunted.
Most popular op-eds of 2018: A year of drama and disaster
Manisha Sinha: What happened the last time a President chose America's enemies over its friends Donald Trump likes to compare himself to Andrew Jackson, but the Andrew he really resembles is Andrew Johnson. What they have in common are delusions of personal grandeur and a tainted ascent to the presidency. Trump was elected by a minority of the American electorate, with help from the vagaries of the Electoral College system and from considerable Russian interference.
How Confederate history looks in the shadow of Charlottesville
Exactly one year after the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville that left counterprotester Heather Heyer dead and many others wounded, and during which two state police troopers also died in a helicopter crash, the nation is still grappling to address the issues and forces that the rally unleashed. This was not the first time white supremacists had wrought havoc in the country.
The Real Lesson of Kanye West's Take on Slavery, According to an Expert
TIME magazine print
Ironically, considering his clarified point about the enslaved not fighting back, Kanye West’s version “completely ignores the history of thousands of slaves who fled from slavery and rebelled against it,” says Manisha Sinha, author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. Sinha’s scholarship looks at how fugitive slaves and other people of color played an active role in the end of slavery. In the uproar over Kanye West’s tweets, she sees a lesson about a crucial but often overlooked part of that history — and a reminder that not only was slavery not a choice, but also, in fact, the enslaved made every effort to get out of it.
Historical Interpretations of Reconstruction
University of Connecticut professor Manisha Sinha taught a class about the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. She outlined the different ways historians have interpreted this period - either as a success for the rights granted under the new constitutional amendments, or as a failure since it did not achieve equality for African Americans.
Today’s Eerie Echoes of the Civil War
New York Review of Books online
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln launched his campaign for the Senate seat from Illinois with his now famous “A House Divided” speech. While he did not predict disunion or civil war, Lincoln alluded to the country’s deep political divisions over slavery and concluded, “I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” Even before what historians call the political crisis of the 1850s, the rise of an interracial abolition movement had encountered mob violence in the streets and gag rules in Congress. From then on, abolitionism in the United States was tied to civil liberties and the fate of American democracy itself. By the eve of the war, in 1861, most people in the northern free states felt that the democratic institutions of the country were being subverted.
9 Books to Read for Black History Month, According to Scholars
TIME Magazine print
“This classic of black history is especially pertinent today because it describes the attempt to establish black citizenship and an interracial democracy in the United States immediately after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. This experiment in American democracy was overthrown and a rigid system of racial subordination, segregation, disfranchisement, lynching and racial violence was established in the south. It teaches us how quickly political gains can be undone and that the fight for racial equality in the United States is an ongoing one.”
Tucker Carlson Wrongly Says United States 'Ended Slavery Around the World'
"If anyone could lay claim to leading anti-slavery forces in the world it was Britain, which after it abolished the slave trade and slavery made anti-slavery a leading aspect of its foreign policy and policed the Atlantic to end the slave trade," University of Connecticut history professor Manisha Sinha said...
Was Abraham Lincoln an Incorrigible Racist?
The Washington Post
The black intellectual and activist W.E.B. Du Bois identified the problem of the 20th century as the problem of “the color line.” Its roots lay in the conflict over slavery and black citizenship in the early American republic. Statesmen, abolitionists, slaveholders and the enslaved themselves participated in this debate, which eventually begat the Civil War and emancipation...
Silencing Elizabeth Warren: Gag Rules Have a Long, Dark History
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren seems to have inherited the mantle and fighting spirit of her predecessors from Massachusetts...
Lessons Taught: Obama’s Legacy as a Historian
The New York Times
Manisha Sinha, a professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of “The Slave’s Cause,” a history of abolition, pointed to Fort Monroe in Virginia, Mr. Obama’s first monument designation, in 2011. Mr. Obama’s proclamation notes the fort’s “storied history in defense of our nation.” But it focuses mainly on the enslaved African-Americans who sought refuge there early in the Civil War, setting off an argument that led, ultimately, to the Emancipation Proclamation...
New York’s Secret Doors and Hidden Rooms
The New York Times
“People did hide in false places and attics, places that were inaccessible in houses,” said Manisha Sinha, a professor of history at the University of Connecticut and the author of “The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition,” (Yale University Press, 2016). “What I think is a little questionable is when everyone claims today that the attic in their house hid fugitive slaves.”...
What this 18th century poet reveals about Amanda Gorman's successCNN
Amid the phenomenal response to Amanda Gorman, who delivered a poem to wide acclaim at President Joe Biden's inauguration, lurked a bleaker current: responses that summoned for me the story of enslaved early American poet Phillis Wheatley. In 1773, Wheatley became not just one of the first Black women but one of the first American women to be published when her book of poems, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral," was printed in London. Wheatley traveled to England with her master's son when her book was published, and according to biographer Vincent Carretta, probably returned to America only on the condition she be granted her freedom.
This is the biggest election in 160 yearsCNN
The 2020 presidential election is one of the most crucial in American history. Political pundits have taken to discussing past presidential elections, especially those that have been politically controversial and close, searching for a historical precedent. The so-called Revolution of 1800 put Jeffersonian Republicans in charge and drove the Federalist Party to extinction.
The Oligarchs’ RevengeThe Nation.
The average person may be forgiven for thinking that the South actually won the Civil War. Despite a brief experiment in interracial democracy during the Reconstruction years, for much of its history the region has upheld a regime of brutal racial subordination. In the late 19th century, after the overthrow of Reconstruction, many of its state governments disenfranchised Black men, instituted racial segregation, condoned racial terrorism and violence, and kept a majority of Black and white Southerners economically bound through sharecropping, debt peonage, convict lease labor, and tenancy. By the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt called the South the nation’s No. 1 economic problem, resistant to unionization and social policies. Even today it leads in indices for poverty and weak educational systems.
Why Kamala Harris Matters to MeNew York Times
When I arrived in the United States in 1984, an Indian graduate student wanting to study African-American history, I was an anomaly. Most of my fellow South Asians were in STEM doctoral programs. During the Reagan years, I supported the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition and the Democratic Socialists of America in their attempt to push the Democratic Party and the United States to the left. Still, I could have ill-imagined that one day an African-American man would become the president or that a woman of Jamaican and Indian descent would be a candidate for the vice presidency.
Are you ready for Trump's Gettysburg Address? "As a Civil War historian, I am appalled"CNN
President Donald Trump announced recently that he would like to deliver his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination for the presidency either at the White House or the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania. It is no surprise that Trump is eager to overthrow all presidential norms and use his official residence, the White House, as a backdrop for his convention address.
Donald Trump, Meet Your PrecursorNew York Times
Last week, in defense of her father, Ivanka Trump tweeted out a quotation she wrongly attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville: “A decline of public morals in the United States will probably be marked by the abuse of the power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office.” The misquotation came from an opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal that has since been corrected. What is fascinating about this incident though, is that the quotation actually comes from an 1889 book, “American Constitutional Law,” that defends Andrew Johnson against his impeachment in 1868. By the time the book was written, emancipation and the attempt to guarantee black rights lay in shambles, and conservatives rallied to the defense of Johnson, one of the most reviled presidents in American history.
Slavery on ScreenDissent
2017 The election of the first African-American president prompted something of a renaissance for films about slavery and race as audiences became more receptive to this new history. During Obama’s presidency, films including Lincoln, Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, The Birth of a Nation, and 13th were released. These movies have helped popularize a more holistic history of slavery and its legacy, and in ...
Did He Die an Abolitionist? The Evolution of Abraham Lincoln's AntislaveryAmerican Political Thought
2015 In 1865, William Lloyd Garrison wondered whether he had become a Lincoln emancipationist or Abraham Lincoln had become a Garrisonian abolitionist. This article traces the evolution of Lincoln’s views on slavery and race, from free soil to abolition and from colonization to black citizenship. It argues that at the end of his life, Lincoln inhabited abolitionist ground when he called for limited ...
The Complicated Histories of Emancipation: State of the Field at 150Reviews in American History
2013 The sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued in the midst of the Civil War in 1863, has proven to be a veritable boon to emancipation studies. Several recently published books, including those considered in this essay, have added depth and dimension to the story of the coming of emancipation. The question remains whether they add anything to the history that has now become familiar ...
Historians' Forum: The Emancipation ProclamationCivil War History
2013 Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit...
To "Cast Just Obliquy" on Oppressors: Black Radicalism in the Age of RevolutionThe William and Mary Quarterly
2007 Historians have yet to fully appreciate the alternative and radical nature of black abolitionist ideology and its origins in the revolutionary era and the early Republic. Most continue to portray black abolitionists, in Patrick Rael's words, not as "counterhegemons" but as "cofabricators" of northern political culture. They argue that African Americans appropriated mainstream values and ideas to construct ...