Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas

By Katie Knowles | Black Perspectives

Sexuality and Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas, co-edited by Daina Ramey Berry and Leslie M. Harris, is a provocative book that contains groundbreaking research. Examining new paradigms for understanding sexuality and intimate relationships in the colonial Americas, the authors challenge existing assumptions and confront the shortcomings of typical approaches used in historical scholarship. Their work encourages the reader to consider how the history of sexuality within slavery is an obvious and glaring hole in the literature, which belies the difficult work of recovering these stories in the archival record. Sexuality and Slavery is a significant contribution  as it provides a new approach for analyzing the private lives of enslaved people. The introduction by co-editors Berry and Harris illuminates some of these challenges, including the ways in which perceptions of historical sexuality are tempered by present-day understandings of gender and sexuality. They note the difficulty in “creating respectful portrayals” of enslaved peoples’ sexuality “without reinscribing exploitation” or replicating stereotypes that have developed over time (4). The book includes a Foreword by Catherine Clinton, the editorial introduction, and ten chapters that are arranged roughly chronologically. The book has an Atlantic world focus with chapters exploring West Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and the United States.

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