#TurnItUP: An Intimate History

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Today is day four of the University Press Week (#UPWeek) Blog Tour. Today’s theme is “History,” and we are spotlighting a new series at the UGA Press: Gender and Slavery.

It’s been almost three years since our first announcement of the Gender and Slavery series, and early this October, we released Sexuality and Slavery, the inaugural book for the series. Headed by Daina Ramey Berry and Jennifer L. Morgan, Gender and Slavery will explore the gendered experience of enslavement in the New World, including both the Americas and the West Indies. They hope to broaden the scope of studies of slavery to encompass larger fields like labor, expressive culture, intimate relations, resistance, reproduction, and production.

SexualityandslaveryThe first published book of the series, Sexuality and Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas, is an anthology from ten contributors, edited by Daina Ramey Berry and Leslie M. Harris. The essays explore the duality of sexuality—both as a tool of control, exploitation, and repression and as an expression of autonomy, resistance, and defiance. Berry and Harris offer a more contemporary study of sexuality within slave communities, placing it in the center of the matter. In a recent interview with Black Perspectives, Berry and Harris said, “We also tried to contextualize the history of sexual exploitation during slavery knowing that it often overshadowed conversations about sexual expression. Our aim was not to recount the abuse, rape, forced breeding, and violence so common in slavery, but to have conversations about how enslaved people created healthy spaces of pleasure and expressed their sexuality through dress, movement, poetry, song, and dance.”

In the introduction, Berry discusses the context of the book’s production. It was bookended by the 2011 exposure of child abuse at the hands of Jerry Sandusky and the 2016 revelation of Donald Trump’s infamous tape discussing grabbing women by certain body parts. And, at the time of its release, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, amid allegations of sexual misconduct, was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. Quoting Berry seems fitting:

The hundreds of women and men who stepped forward against their predators had one thing in common: the power dynamic between them and their alleged assailants silenced them at the time of the initial act. Indeed, what is striking about most of these cases is that they reference actions that occurred as much as forty years ago, indicating the continuing difficulty of pursuing remedies for sexual harassment as it occurs.”

While Berry points out that the anthology won’t provide “easy solutions” to the problems we face today, she emphasizes that we learn more about our present and our future by looking at the past, which irrevocably shapes our society. Sexuality and Slavery seeks to not only depict the narratives we are familiar with but to also cast light on all aspects of sexuality in slave communities. The contributors discuss the sexual abuse of slaves at the hands of white men and white women, yes, but the intimate lives between slaves, full of pleasure and love, usually lost, is found.

In the foreword to the collection, Catherine Clinton writes:

This anthology assembles the best and brightest stars in the field, emerging voices whose cutting-edge criticality and provocative suggestions can reshape the historical landscapes of bondsmen and -women on land and sea, on islands and mainland, within memory and competing communities.”

The series editors for Gender and Slavery encourage submissions that draw on comparative aspects of history, as well as micro- and macro-studies of gender and slavery. The second book in the series, Rethinking Rufus: Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men by Thomas A. Foster, is set for release next May. Foster’s book will expand our current understanding of sexual violence under slavery to encompass the violation of enslaved men by both white men and white women.


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This post was a part of the #UPWeek Blog Tour by member presses of the AAUP. You can visit today’s posts by our colleagues from other presses at their websites here:

Wilfrid Laurier University PressUniversity of California PressUniversity of Nebraska PressUniversity of Alabama PressRutgers University PressUniversity of Rochester PressBeacon PressUniversity Press of KansasHarvard Univerity PressUniversity of Toronto Press, and MIT Press.

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