Marcus Rediker was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1951, to Buford and Faye Rediker, the first of their two sons. His family has roots in the mines and factories of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia; he grew up in Nashville and Richmond. He attended Vanderbilt University, dropped out of school and worked in a factory for three years, and graduated with a B.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1976. He went to the University of Pennsylvania for graduate study, earning an M.A. and Ph.D. in history.
Marcus taught at Georgetown University from 1982 to 1994, lived in Moscow for a year (1984-5), and is currently Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh. He has, over the years, been active in a variety of social justice and peace movements, including the worldwide campaign to abolish the death penalty.
He has written, co-written, or edited twelve books, all of them histories “from below”: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1987); Who Built America? (with Herbert Gutman, et al., 1989), volume one; The Many-Headed Hydra (2000, with Peter Linebaugh); Villains of All Nations (2004); The Slave Ship (2007); Many Middle Passages (2007); The Amistad Rebellion (2012); Mutiny and Maritime Radicalism in the Age of Revolution (2013); Outlaws of the Atlantic (2014); The Fearless Benjamin Lay (2017); A Global History of Runaways (2019); and Prophet against Slavery (2021, with David Lester and Paul Buhle). His writings have been translated into Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. His books have won numerous awards, including the George Washington Book Prize, the American Studies Association’s John Hope Franklin Book Prize, the American Historical Association’s James A. Rawley Prize, and the Organization of American Historians’ Merle Curti Award (twice). He has held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Andrew P. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment of the Humanities.
Marcus worked with film-maker Tony Buba to produce a documentary entitled Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of the Rebels, a chronicle of a trip to Sierra Leone in which he interviewed village elders about local memory of the case and searched for the long-lost ruins of Lomboko, the slave trading factory from which the Amistad Africans were loaded aboard slave ships and sent to the New World. In 2015 the film was given the John E. O’Conner Award by the American Historical Association as the year’s best historical documentary. It has been screened in London, Paris, and Amsterdam and aired multiple times on PBS. You may visit the film’s website and watch the film here.
Marcus is also working with playwright Naomi Wallace to write a stage play entitled “The Return of Benjamin Lay,” which has been workshopped in New York, London, and Paris. He is currently serving as guest curator in the JMW Turner Gallery of Tate Britain in London. His current book project, under contract to Viking-Penguin, is a history of escaping slavery by sea in antebellum Atlantic America.