- Editorial Note:New Landscapes of Empire, Family, Work, and Power
The authors in this first issue of volume 24 offer enriching perspectives on themes that long have interested women's and gender historians: matters of empire, family, work, and power. They excavate the lives of women to highlight patterns of meaning not typically considered together in historical analysis. This work, in its creative readings of source materials and innovative uses of familiar methods, continues our discussion from the last issue. The geographic and temporal settings that contextualize the articles featured here vary greatly, ranging from early modern transatlantic history to industrializing England to late colonial and postcolonial Senegal in West Africa to the high medieval period in Western Europe. You will find here violence and intimacy treated as one analytical whole, challenging analyses of women's work and motherhood in distinct economic, labor, and cultural contexts, and a gendered assessment of a poem set carefully in its historical context. Together these articles provide a fresh look into less studied realms of women's lives.
This issue begins with Nancy van Deusen's "The Intimacies of Bondage: Female Indigenous Servants and Slaves and Their Spanish Masters, 1492-1555," which explores new landscapes in Spain's new world colonies. Elegantly written, meticulously researched, and innovative, the article takes us beyond the "cold spaces" of Spain's early empire in the "new world." Creatively reading sources found in Lima, Peru, van Deusen examines "intimate partnerships" between indigenous women servants and slaves and Spanish men. As she shows, though ubiquitous in the early modern Atlantic world economy, women seldom appear in the male-centered historical literature of conquest and early colonial settlement. But her analysis does not simply "recover" these women. Drawing on new paradigms, van Deusen traces the transatlantic interconnections between the colonial settlements and Iberia and challenges historiographies that divide the era into two periods, one of violent conquest and the other of social stability. She demonstrates, rather, the realities of violence and intimacy ever present in the ties of affection that developed between Spanish masters and indigenous women, uncovering women's agency in the context of imperial power, slavery, and family law. Even after the abolition of native slavery in the 1540s, this context made motherhood exceedingly insecure for the women who were bearing the next generations of mestizo settlers. Through a self-proclaimed feminist lens, van Deusen writes movingly of the complexities of women's lives forged out of deracination, loss, and forced migration. [End Page 7]
In "Fashioning Freedom: Slave Seamstresses in the Atlantic World," Karol K. Weaver continues the transatlantic perspective, but centers her inquiry on France and its colonies of Saint Domingue, Guadeloupe, and Martinique in the eighteenth century. She demonstrates how slave women used their seamstress skills to help "fashion" their freedom. Slave seamstresses were typically "women of color" known as mulatresses, a term that, over time, came to imply a free woman of color. Unlike the unskilled field hands who enjoyed fewer options, members of this occupational group exercised agency in a number of ways: they traveled back and forth to Paris, the fashion center of the world, to learn the latest styles; they often worked in urban settings where they intermingled with free people and enjoyed opportunities to become literate, earn money, purchase their freedom, or flee from bondage. Weaver draws on a vast array of sources, including advertisements, travel books, plantation manager accounts, and newspaper reports on slave markets. She also examines images in contemporary paintings and offers a cultural reading of the symbols of cloth—a valuable product in the early modern economy where it also facilitated political alliances—as key markers of social, gender, and racial borders. Like van Deusen, who provides a short exegesis on the meanings of material objects bequeathed to female servants, Weaver deepens what we know about slavery by focusing on slave seamstresses and the cloth they made out of a mix of African, Creole, and European styles.
Andrea A. Rusnock and Vivien E. Dietz also focus on labor in "Defining Women's Sickness and Work: Female Friendly Societies in England, 1780-1830," an article that offers an interior view of...