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Of bonds and bondage : gender, slavery, and transatlantic intimacies in the eighteenth century


This dissertation examines women's autobiographical texts as key sites for understanding the variety of intimate, everyday practices through which the transatlantic slave system was constituted and challenged. I analyze journals, letters, slave narratives, and religious writings by women of different social and racial backgrounds who traveled or lived in the Anglophone Caribbean during the long eighteenth century. I focus on the writings of Janet Schaw, Maria Nugent, Eliza Fenwick, Elizabeth Hart Thwaites, Anne Hart Gilbert, and Mary Prince. These women's writings demonstrate that colonial control was exercised not only through formal state institutions, but also through the intimate interactions, alliances, and social norms produced by individuals in everyday life. At the same time, they show that colonial power was not only challenged through organized, collective action, but also by individuals who rejected or reinterpreted social norms regarding race, class, gender, and sexuality. Arguing against traditions of scholarship that minimize the centrality of intimate spheres in the constitution of the political, the complex positions of female colonists, and the theoretical and material contributions of slaves to the overthrow of the colonial slave system, I argue that intimacies produced within and across lines of social difference in the Caribbean were both productive of colonial power and the basis for unique forms of everyday resistance to the ideologies and material structures of the slave plantation economy. By reading women's narratives in relation to unpublished archival sources, historical records, and other literary texts, I trace the ways that everyday practices within spaces such as homes, plantations, schools, and churches were implicated in transatlantic circulations of power, violence, and ideas concerning the form and future of the slave system. My project demonstrates that an appraisal of the intimate in colonial relations helps redefine politics by critiquing the binary logic that understands power primarily in terms of public, rather than private, acts

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