This morning's New York Timesbrings the sad news that Kenneth M. Stampp, a towering figure in American history, has passed away. Stampp was best known for his 1956 book The Peculiar Institution. Though published more than fifty years ago, the book still sparkles--I return to it frequently for guidance about how to talk about slavery. Though the first book that I read by Stampp was his 1990 book, America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink. That book first opened me to the idea that limited time periods -- like a year in that case, or even a day -- might be really good ways of organizing our thoughts about history. Stampp also wrote an important early study of Thomas Dew, a person who looms large in my current work.