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Seymour J. Drescher (1934-)

Seymour Drescher, born 1934 in Bronx, New York is an American historian and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, known for his studies on Alexis de Tocqueville and Slavery.

Seymour's parents Sydney (1907-1999) and Ava (1909-1999), of Polish Jewish background where both born after the turn of the last century, one from Galicia and one from Russian Poland before the 1914 war. They married in 1930 but had to flee Germany in August 1939 and came to lived in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh with their families for the remainder of their lives. Seymour spent the first twenty-one years of his life in the 'Bronx', attended the public school Bronx High School of Science (1951), and then City College on Manhattan Island.

"I had a couple fabulous professors including a German Czech professor, Hans Kohn".

Graduating with his Bachelor of Arts in 1955 in which he majored in history, he was leaving his hometown for the first time to do his Masters at University Wisconsin, when he was fortunate enough to meet a young woman, Ruth, who was also graduating. Within a month they had gotten engaged, and since he'd gotten a scholarship into Madison he invited her to come alone - as his wife.

"At Madison I wanted to work with professor Merle Curti who was probably the most famous history teacher at the time, [he was] into American intellectual history".

This was shortly before the Drescher's moved to New York in August 1955 when Curti was on a fellowship year and Seymour was forced to accept a new professor who had just arrived from 'Bootham' the English Quaker school - he was George Lachmann Mosse (1918–1999).

Within a year George had become his mentor helping Seymour through his Masters. He'd gotten a Fulbright scholarship in Paris and on his return to the University of Wisconsin begins preparing his Doctorate thesis on 'Alexis de Tocqueville', when suddenly, in 1960, Seymour becomes very ill with a leaking appendix and spends weeks recovering in Madison Hospital.

However, he's successful and is made Instructor in History at Harvard University for two years (1960-1962). Joining the faculty at Pittsburgh University in 1962 he spends three years as Assistant Professor of History (1962-1965) as his thesis is published under the title "Tocqueville and England" (Harvard University Press, 1964) and he's then made Associate Professor (1965-1969) and when he becomes full Professor of History he publishes his book "Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition" (1977). Because of Econocide, most historians now reject interpretations that reduce British abolitionism to economic motives.

Meanwhile, in honor of George Mosse, Seymour worked on a 'Festschrift' for a conference at the University of Wisconsin held in 1982. Then before he retiring from Pittsburgh after seventeen years there he publishes "Capitalism and Antislavery: British Mobilization in Comparative Perspective" (1986). After Capitalism and Antislavery, few have cast British antislavery as a movement orchestrated by elites.

The 1990's for Seymour are are roller coaster of success and pain. He is awarded a Resident Scholarhip at Villa Serbelloni (1990) and a UCIS Research Fellowship (1992). He writes dozens of successful papers, edits the book "The Meaning of Freedom: Economics, Politics, and Culture After Slavery" with Frank McGlynn (1992), writes "Statement on the Jews and the Atlantic Slave Trade" with David Brion Davis (March 1995), contributes "Abolitionism" for The Encyclopedia of Democracy (1996), co-edits "A Historical Guide to World Slavery" with Stanley L. Engerman (1998), and publishes his book "From Slavery To Freedom: Comparative Studies in the Rise and Fall of Atlantic Slavery" (1999). A highly successful decade comes to a close, however, with tragedy when in January of 1999 Seymour looses his professor, mentor, friend George Mosse to cancer, shortly to follow are his parents - Sydney first in July and Eva in September.

From Slavery to Freedom, has become a guide through the complex, controversial scholarship on capitalism, slavery, and abolitionism - it begins with his early pioneering essays on British abolition, moves onto comparative studies of antislavery in Brazil, France, and the Netherlands, and ends with more recent essays on wide ranging topics like the development of scientific racism in Europe, the idea of free labor in British antislavery thought, European reaction to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, and present-day comparisons between the Atlantic slave trade and the Holocaust.

Seymour's contributions to the field of history continues, and over the next decade or so - writing dozens more papers, again is awarded UCIS Research Fellow (2000) and with Stanley Engerman and Robert Paquette he co-edits, Slavery for the Oxford Readers Series (2001). Then in the same year he is made Academic Dean (Semester-at-Sea, University of Pittsburgh) he publishes "The Mighty Experiment: Free Labor versus Slavery in British Emancipation" (2002).

In 2003 he is rewarded with the Frederick Douglass Prize by the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. Then contributes "Tocqueville’s Comparative Perspectives" in The Cambridge Companion to Tocqueville (edited by Cheryl B. Welch, 2006). Another important work is then published in 2009 - his "Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery" and finally the following year contributes to Dictionnaire des esclavages, under the direction of Olivier Pétré-Grenoiulleau (2010).
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