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Professor Emily West, University of Reading
Professor Maria Helena Pereira Toledo Machado, University of São Paulo, Brazil
Visiting Professorship

Enslaved women in the Atlantic world: comparative representations and interdisciplinary methodologies

Professor Machado’s visit offers exciting opportunities to develop interdisciplinary and innovative research and teaching practices related to the comparative history of enslaved women in nineteenth-century Brazil and the US

It is very exciting to finally welcome Professor Maria Helena Machado to my Department after some inevitable Covid-related delays to her visit. I have been inspired by Professor Machado’s work on women and slavery in Brazil for some time and we have both previously published on the topic of enslaved wet nurses – compelled to feed white children of slaveholding families their own breastmilk. 

Although Brazil has a rich tradition of research about women and slavery, much of this is unfamiliar to historians of slavery without expertise in Portuguese, including me (an historian of enslaved women in the US). We can therefore all benefit from sharing the expertise of English-speaking historians of Brazil, such as Professor Machado. 

During Professor Machado’s visit we will utilise multiple methodological approaches and theoretical perspectives to better conceptualise the lives of enslaved women and to probe the nature of gendered and racial discrimination directed against them. We seek to enable the development of critical and comparative skills in this history via transatlantic perspectives, which can only be brought about through wider engagement with Brazil’s crucial role in Atlantic slavery. 

Professor Machado is undertaking some undergraduate teaching for the Departments of History and Modern Languages and we have arranged our first São Paulo-Reading virtual workshop for students and staff working on the histories of gender and slavery, to foster collaborative and comparative thinking. We have organised the first two Leverhulme Lectures: the first will focus upon Maria Firmina dos Reis, the founder of Afro-Brazilian literature; the second will be delivered as part of the university’s Gender History Cluster’s initiatives for Women’s History Month and will explore women’s movement between slavery and freedom in Brazil. Further events will be organised in the Autumn term of 2022. 

Overall, this is proving to be a thought-provoking and timely visit, deepening our understandings of about how we might develop our curricula, our research and the dissemination and presentation of our work in more inclusive ways in light of recent decolonisation initiatives. 

Mina Igeichá, photographed by  Augusto Stahl, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1865
Mina Igeichá, photographed by  Augusto Stahl, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1865. Reproduced courtesy of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University.

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