Friday, February 10, 2012

Interview with Daina Ramey Berry, coeditor of Enslaved Women in America

Q: What prompted you to work on Enslaved Women in America?

I accepted the invitation to edit this volume because I believe reference books reach a wider audience than what is customary in my field. The idea that high schools, community colleges, as well as four year institutions will likely purchase Enslaved Women is encouraging. This opportunity allows me to be in conversation with several young minds, not just my professional peers. I also wanted to share the stories of enslaved women with a larger audience and believe that this is a good avenue to accomplish this goal.

Q: What "message" do you want to communicate?

Enslaved women had a variety of different experiences in the United States and their remarkable stories are an important part of American History.

Q: What was the highlight of your research?

When one of the contributors, Dr. Jessica Millward, who is also member of the editorial board, shared the story of a Maryland bondwoman, Charity Folks and her family. Charity Folks will soon be a familiar name just like enslaved women such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.

Q: What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

The persistence of enslaved women. So many women in this volume had a spirit of perseverance in the face of significant obstacles. Enslaved women made choices that reflected their individual personalities, wishes, and desires. Your average reader knows very little about slavery and even less about enslaved women so many of the stories in this volume are novel.

Forthcoming, June 2012

Q: How did your research change your outlook on the subject?

For the most part, work on this project encouraged me to continue to look for people who have been historically marginalized. With the history of slavery, one has to approach the archival record looking for their voices as well as their silences. I always ask, "what does this woman want us to know about her?" or "what does she want to hide from us?" Thus my approach to writing and/or telling this history involves being comfortable with ambiguities, hypocrisies, and secrecy, which ultimately draw upon emotions such as joy, pain, grief, pride, hope, and sorrow.

Q: How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth?

People are generally excited about this publication because it is the first of it's kind. Students and scholars alike will hopefully turn to this volume as a resource for incorporating stories of enslaved women into their writing.

Q: What's next for you?

I am currently completing my second book entitled, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of Human Chattels, which is a study of the commodificaiton of human beings. I am also finishing two co-edited books from conferences I hosted in 2011: Slavery and Freedom in Savannah and Sexuality and Slavery, with Professor Leslie Harris of Emory University.

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