Slavery historian Ira Berlin dies at 77

Berlin's death was confirmed Wednesday by the University of Maryland, where he was a longtime faculty member. The university did not immediately have additional details about his death.

Through his books and through the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, based at the University of Maryland, Berlin helped unearth countless documents on the horrors, heroism and complexities of black life in the U.S. and the colonial era. He explored everything from the relationship between masters and their former slaves to the long history of slavery predating the rise of the American South. In a 2004 interview with the History News Network, he called slavery central to American history.

"It's not a very happy or pleasant subject. It's not something that one gets over it," he said. "One does not get over history, one just has to come to terms with it."

Berlin was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, receiving a Ph.D. in history in 1970. His books included "Generations of Captivity," ''Slaves Without Masters" and "Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America," for which he won the Bancroft Prize. He also wrote the introduction for a tie-in book to the acclaimed movie "Twelve Years a Slave," and was an adviser for HBO's documentary about former slaves, "Unchained Memories."

Numerous peers and former students offered tributes Thursday. Annette Gordon-Reed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Hemingses of Monticello," tweeted that he was a "great historian, and a good man." The author and historian Ana Lucia Araujo wrote in a tweet that he influenced "at least three generations of scholars of slavery." Berlin once summed up his work by writing that "History is not about the past; it is about arguments we have about the past. And because it is about arguments that we have, it is about us.

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