Specters of the Womb: Enslaved Women, Childbirth, and Pain in 19th-Century Brazil

This talk will explore enslaved women’s reproductive experiences in nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro city and state.

Enslaved women’s reproductive capabilities underpinned the institution of slavery across the Americas. Women’s ability—or lack thereof—to conceive, bear, and raise children to productive age informed import numbers, plantation regimes, and abolitionist legislation.

In Brazil, as with most Atlantic slave societies, the enslaved population reproduced itself through imports and not natural growth, with a few regional and temporal exceptions.

While historians have focused on how enslaved women used their identities as mothers to fight for abolition, research has overlooked enslaved women’s own reproductive practices, outcomes, and experiences. These experiences are, of course, difficult if not impossible to access, as the available documentation was produced by and for slave-owning and medical elites.

In this talk, Cassia Roth will suggest two ways how we can read existing dominant sources, such as medical reports, to understand enslaved women’s experiences and pain.

Registration required.

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