Rachel Zellars // Black Subjectivity and the Origins of American Gynecology – AAIHS

Black Subjectivity and the Origins of American Gynecology – AAIHS: With her concise scholarly monograph on the history of American gynecology and the exploitation of enslaved Black and Irish women’s bodies in the early to mid-nineteenth century, Owens centers medical case narratives, patient histories and procedures transcribed in medical journals, judicial cases from appellate courts, physician’s daybooks, as well as formerly enslaved women’s narratives to better encapsulate the ways that Black and Irish women experienced professional medical care and racism before the American Civil War. These primary sources, Owens writes, are “just as important as plantation records, ledgers, and interviews in what they reveal about doctors’ objectifying attitudes towards slaves and poor immigrants” (8). Of her five chapters, four revolve around enslaved Black women. She relies on “scant” archives of medical journals, textbooks, and hospital records to piece together a comparative history of Irish women’s racialized medical experiences in the mid-nineteenth century in her fourth chapter. Medical Bondage joins a growing body of work committed to centering Black subjectivity; expanding an understanding of the social construction of gender and Black femininity beginning in enslavement; and revisiting slavery’s capitalism.

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