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Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Early American Studies) Paperback – February 25, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0812218732 ISBN-10: 0812218736

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Product Details

  • Series: Early American Studies
  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (February 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812218736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812218732
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Morgan's highly original study transforms our understanding of the fundamental assumptions behind slavery in the Americas."—Kathleen M. Brown, University of Pennsylvania

"Morgan's remarkably lucid treatment of the role of gender in constructing racial ideologies and in justifying the economic system of slavery should make such complex themes accessible to advanced undergraduates. Her book succeeds in highlighting the importance of African women in determining the shape of the slave system in the New World, as well as the ways in which the system shaped the experiences of African women. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"The author of this study has made a major contribution . . . by looking specifically at the issue of gender as a lens through which better to understand the establishment of race-based slavery in Britain's colonies in the Caribbean and North America."—The Historian

From the Publisher

Jennifer L. Morgan teaches history and women's and gender studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rukayya Furo on December 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
In his poem "Yet Do I Marvel," Harlem Renaissance poet, Countee Cullen writes, "Yet do I marvel at this curious thing," this "curious thing" being the figure of a black poet. Cullen's "curious thing" can also be extended to the "curious" being of the African woman and her body. Writers, explorers and colonists alike, in traveling to the African continent, "grappled with the character of a contradictory female African body-a body both desirable and repulsive, available and untouchable, productive and reproductive, beautiful and black" (p. 16). In her book, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery, Jennifer Morgan brings to light this contradictory, dual nature of African women as being both producers and reproducers simultaneously of labor and laborers. Her work is illuminating in that it examines issues relating to enslaved African and African American women's lives that have received little or no attention in past works. Laboring Women traces the histories of enslaved African women from the African continent through the Middle Passage, and then on to their lives as laborers in the New World. In doing so, Morgan skillfully and systematically forces her readers to imagine the lives of African women outside of the popular discourses that limit our full understanding of the culture and history that is so rich and prevalent in the lives of African women.

In chapter one of her book, Jennifer Morgan begins by providing a history of the emergent thoughts and views that led to the characterized and stereotypical image of the African woman. Written accounts of travelers and colonists alike commonly depicted African women as anomalies, as women who were not like the civil white woman.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Robinson on February 9, 2013
Format: Paperback
In this engaging work, Jennifer Morgan looks at African women and slavery in early colonial Barbados and South Carolina. She focuses on these women's dual roles in production and reproduction. Thus, Morgan discusses not only women's bodies and gender issues, but also their labor. She argues that enslaved women's labor was physically vital to the evolution of slavery in these British colonies. While their physical labor helped the economy expand and develop, their reproductive labor ended up defining the system of slavery. Unlike slavery in the past, the children born to enslaved women became slaves themselves.
Morgan begins by discussing the emergence of a gendered racial ideology of African women, which led to the view that African women did not feel pain in childbirth or strenuous labor. This lack of pain made then un-Christian and suitable for slavery (p. 40). It also made them suitable for hard work. Morgan argues that these depictions also shaped English ideas about race before they ever laid eyes on an African. Thus, Morgan agrees with David Eltis' assessment that racism existed before the colonies were ever settled. Morgan then discusses the experience of enslaved women in the Americas by discussing slaveholders' attitudes about reproduction, the disruption of enslaved families, and the ways that work affected reproduction. Morgan emphasizes that the slaveholders held the power, but is also quick to point out that enslaved women were able to shape their own familial experiences.
This is a well-crafted work, but it does seem to be lacking in two areas. First, Morgan discusses sex and reproduction, but there is practically no discussion of slave women being exploited as sexual objects.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michell G. Goetz on November 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
By challenging conventional wisdom of slavery, the roles of enslaved women in the West Indies and South Carolina take new shape and greater meaning in Jennifer Morgan's Laboring Women. The topic of slavery is discussed and written about at length by many; however, only four authors prior to Morgan have written literature in regards to the enslaved women of this era. The records, documents, and literature left behind to evaluate this period rarely and vaguely mention women, and there are numerous assumptions and misconceptions about them that must be addressed. Morgan's book places African women at the center of slavery by highlighting their significance in determining the shape of the slave system, as well as the ways in which the system shaped their experiences and culture. Prior to the mass displacement of African men and women by colonialists, travelers began to record various travel logs that racially scrutinized Africans. Traders pointed out extreme cultural distinctions between themselves and Africans to vindicate slavery, and further to exploit a race for economic benefits. Morgan points out that "the publication of images fueled the imaginations of settlers and would-be colonists alike and constituted an essential component of the ideological arsenal that European settlers brought to bear against African laborers (13)." The strangeness of African women only made colonialist's justifications more solidified. Morgan claims that women are understood to be the true laborers of slavery as a result of their duty to reproduce and work the fields. They carried an unimaginable burden that demands attention and acknowledgement from historians.Read more ›
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