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 (19)
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.”...
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.
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 ...
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 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 ...
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...
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 ...