New Perspectives on Female Bondage: Reproduction, Medicine, and the Archives of Slavery in the Atlantic World

AHA Session 210
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Roosevelt Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park, Exhibition Level)
Sasha Turner, Quinnipiac University
Marisa J. Fuentes, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Deirdre Cooper Owens, Queens College, City University of New York
Lisa Ze Winters, Wayne State University

Session Abstract

The legal code partus sequitur ventremoffspring follows belly - enacted in slave colonies across the Americas from Brazil, to Jamaica, and Virginia, bound enslaved women’s fertility to the reproduction of slavery. Enacting that all children take their mothers’ status not only made the slave condition inheritable and installed a racialized hierarchy across all New World slave colonies; partus sequitur ventrem imbricated the reproductive potential of women in the construction and ultimate destruction of slavery. From the ideological foundations of slavery and abolition, to the organization of labor, intimacies, family, kinship, and sexual relations, the advancement of medical knowledge, and the ways in which slave markets functioned and slavery archives were constructed, enslaved women’s reproductive lives were bound inextricably to slavery. These fundamental truths juxtaposed alongside the invisibility of enslaved women in slavery studies puzzled Deborah Gray White, and informed her simple, but profound 1985 question, “where are the women?” Jennifer Morgan’s rethinking of Gray White’s question in 2004, “women’s work and women’s bodies are inseparable from the landscape of colonial slavery,” ushered in a new wave in enslaved women’s history. Representing a mere subset of new slavery studies, this discussion explores the reproductive and medical lives of enslaved women and methodological constraints and breakthroughs in interrogating the experiences of enslaved subjects.
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