Department of History

Jesse Olsavsky

  • Graduate Student

I am from Toledo, Ohio. I studied history and German literature at the University of Toledo, before coming to study at the University of Pittsburgh. I am mainly interested in labor history, the history of social movements, intellectual history from the bottom up, and the history of American imperialism.


Atlantic History
U.S. History


“Fugitive Slaves, Vigilance Committees, and the Abolitionists’ Revolution” Revolutions, Geopolitical Economy Research Group, University of Manitoba, Canada, September, 2017

“Revolutionary Abolitionism and its Legacies,” Slavery, Race, and Revolutionary Abolitionism: Yesterday and Today, Collège d’études mondiales, Paris, May, 2017.

“‘We Are All Bound Together’: Women, Vigilance Committees, and the Making of Abolitionism Without Borders, 1835-1859” Underground Railroad National Conference, Cambridge Maryland, May 2017.

“C.L.R. James, the Underground Railroad, and the Black Radical Tradition,” C.L.R. James Now CUNY Graduate Center, New York, November, 2016.

 “Slave Mobility and the Antislavery Movement: Fugitive Slaves, Vigilance Committees, and the Rise of Revolutionary Abolitionism” Desertion and Global Labor History, 1500-1850 International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, October, 2015.


Research Interests

 Dissertation Topic: “Fire and Sword Will Do More Good”: Fugitives, Vigilance Committees, and the Making of Revolutionary Abolitionism, 1835-1859

Advisor: Marcus Rediker

This project explores the ways vigilance committees transformed the abolitionist movement by organizing across races, classes, and genders, and by learning directly from the thousands of fugitive slaves whom they worked with on a daily basis. Vigilance committees protected free black neighborhoods from slave catchers, organized the Underground Railroad, participated in all the radical movements of the times, and, by placing the fugitive at the vanguard of abolitionism, radicalized the practice and theory of the movement.