Executing Race

Early American Women's Narratives of Race, Society, and the Law

Sharon M. Harris

“Executing Race provides a model for interrogating the language and structure of texts that are traditionally considered to be extra-literary. Harris’s conclusions concerning the construction and manipulation of our understandings of race and genre in the eighteenth century, and the implications of such for law and literature are both original and vitally important.” —Dorothy Z. Baker, University of Houston

“Executing Race offers a useful blend of historical material and theoretical perspective, based on solid current scholarly discussions and careful research. The chapters on Lucy Terry, Ann Eliza Bleecker, and Belinda alone will be worth the price of the book.” —Pattie Cowell, Colorado State University

Executing Race examines the multiple ways in which race, class, and the law impacted women’s lives in the 18th century and, equally important, the ways in which women sought to change legal and cultural attitudes in this volatile period.

Through an examination of infanticide cases, Harris reveals how conceptualizations of women, especially their bodies and their legal rights, evolved over the course of the 18th century. Early in the century, infanticide cases incorporated the rhetoric of the witch trials. However, at mid-century, a few women, especially African American women, began to challenge definitions of “bastardy” (a legal requirement for infanticide), and by the end of the century, women were rarely executed for this crime as the new nation reconsidered illegitimacy in relation to its own struggle to establish political legitimacy. Against this background of legal domination of women’s lives, Harris exposes the ways in which women writers and activists negotiated legal territory to invoke their voices into the radically changing legal discourse.

Harris’s recovery of little-known writings by well-known writers, along with the recovery of radical women authors of the Revolutionary period, offers new insights into women’s writings, race relations, and the construction of nationalism in the eighteenth century.

Sharon M. Harris is Lorraine Sherley Professor in Literature in the Department of English, Texas Christian University.


Jan 2005
Social Science/Ethnic, History/United States, Literary Criticism/American
288 pp. 6x9

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