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We tend to think of the history of slavery in the United States in terms of bright lines separating North and South, slave and free, pre- and post-Emancipation. But this view, says Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Steven Hahn, vastly oversimplifies a complex and labile situation. Building a case against the received understanding, Hahn argues passionately in the lectures that make up this collection that the boundaries of slavery were indistinct. There were slaves and owners in the North—he reproduces an 1851 notice warning the "Colored People of Boston" to "Keep a Sharp Look Out" for "Kidnappers and Slave Catchers"—and communities of free blacks and escaped slaves even in the South, as well as a patchwork of laws and practices that reigned west of the ever mobile frontier and elsewhere outside the country's borders. Furthermore, the perception of enslaved blacks as a powerless and inchoate mass, passive recipients of their emancipation, is belied by evidence of organized action on such a scale that Hahn considers it tantamount to a great slave rebellion unrecognized because of white America's paternalistic myopia then and since, an intriguing proposition that is bound to stir controversy within academia and beyond.
— Amanda Heller