Book Bag: ‘The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition’ by Manisha Sinha; ‘The Berkshires Cookbook: Farm-Fresh Recipes from the Heart of Massachusetts’ by Jane Barton Griffith

Last modified: Thursday, February 04, 2016


By Manisha Sinha

Yale University Press

As Manisha Sinha sees it, the story of the abolitionist movement has often been told in a fragmented fashion, with a particular emphasis on the pre-Civil War era and the white, bourgeois reformers — notably from New England — whose anti-slavery views often harbored a paternalistic attitude about blacks in general.

Sinha, a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, argues that the story about abolishing slavery in America began much earlier and involved many groups and events: free blacks and escaped slaves, slaves who rebelled against their owners, white Quakers in colonial America, as well as anti-slavery movements in other countries.

In her new book, “The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition,” published by Yale University Press, Sinha outlines some of the events that influenced the abolitionist movement, like the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 in what was then called the French colony of Saint-Domingue, in which a massive slave uprising completely upended white rule. She also notes that abolitionism was part of a larger push by men and women, both black and white, who advocated for feminism, labor rights and income equality.

“Abolition was a radical, interracial movement, one which addressed the entrenched problems of exploitation and disenfranchisement in a liberal democracy and anticipated debates over race, labor, and empire,” she writes. “The actions of slave rebels and runaways, black writers and community leaders did not lie outside of but shaped abolition and its goals.”

Sinha profiles black abolitionist leaders like Paul Cuffe, a Massachusetts man who traveled to Great Britain in the early 1800s to help build anti-slavery sentiment there, which in turn helped sparked abolitionism in the United States; Cuffe, she notes, also became the first black leader to meet with an American president when he was received at the White House by James Madison.

Her book also touches on the work of two black leaders and abolitionists who lived in the Pioneer Valley, Sojourner Truth and David Ruggles, and numerous other people whose stories she’s gleaned from original documents like letters, period newspapers, memoirs and other sources. “The Slave’s Cause,” one reviewer writes, “should be required reading for every scholar in the humanities and social sciences who is concerned with the American condition.”

As part of Black History Month, Manisha Sinha will join a panel of Five College historians Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Goodell Hall at UMass to discuss her book and the history of abolition. A reception and book signing will follow.


By Jane Barton Griffith

Globe Pequot

The Berkshires have more name recognition than the Pioneer Valley does, which likely accounts for the title of this new book by veteran food writer Jane Barton Griffith. But in “The Berkshires Cookbook,” Griffith celebrates recipes, food sources and restaurants both in the far western edges of Massachusetts as well as local spots such as Bistro Les Gras in Northampton, Coco and the Cellar Bar in Easthampton and Mayval Farm in Westhampton.

“The Berkshires and Pioneer Valley region are food hubs where the farmers and food producers are playing leading roles in the sustainable food movement,” Griffith writes. “The climate of excitement and renovation is reminiscent of the mood in California in the ’70s when Alice Waters inspired a revolution in food.”

Griffith’s book includes some of her own recipes for everything from appetizers to main courses to desserts, organized by season; much is based on produce from western Massachusetts. She also includes specific recipes from the restaurants and producers she highlights, such as seared scallops with le puy lentils from the Blue Heron in Sunderland and French and savory folds from Hungry Ghost Bread in Northampton.

Her profiles of restaurants and food producers includes interviews with the owners and other background information; some 16 locations in Hampshire and Franklin counties get at least a mention. The book is also dressed up with colorful photographs of meals and produce by Barbara Dowd that may well have you headed to the kitchen if you like to cook — or simply out to eat.


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