Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)




Karin A Wulf

Committee Member

Fabrico P Prado

Committee Member

Hannah Rosen


The two papers that comprise this Master's portfolio each explore colonial representations of black women and the constructed nature of imperial British masculinity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Both papers interrogate strategic portrayals of black women's bodily experience, character, and personal relationships as they appeared in print material such as newspapers, books, trial accounts, and pamphlets in the British Atlantic. Additionally, they analyze how British men in Caribbean colonies and the metropole used these representations as rhetorical tools to debate class-based understandings of masculine power. The portfolio collectively explores these questions in a broad context, investigating the racial and imperial implications of gender violence in British print sources, interrogating how white British men used race, ethnicity, and gender to construct and legitimize their identities, obscuring women of color's actual lived experience in the process. The first paper "'They Brutalize the Manners of Men': Black Female Bodies and the Construction of Colonial British Masculinity in the Abolition Debate for Jamaica (1772-1833)" looks at representations of enslaved Jamaican women in works written between the British Parliament's decision in Somerset v. Stewart (1771) and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, during which the debate over abolition was arguably at its most fervent. It argues that writers on both sides of the slavery debate saw the question of human-ownership as a question of masculine responsibility and right —and sought to express it in terms of racialized and gendered bodies. They formulated simplistic portrayals of enslaved women as contrastingly in need of paternal protection from physical brutality and the victimization of predatory interracial relationships – or as in need of harsh structure and white domination to protect them from the natural degradation of black culture. It further asserts that while pro and antislavery advocates used racial and gendered constructions differently, for seemingly opposite ends, both sets of writing ultimately furthered racial anxieties and stereotypes and obscured lived realities through the symbolic high-jacking of enslaved female bodies. The second paper, " 'Delightful Horror' and 'Guilty Fascination': British Masculinity and Strategic Race and Gender Portrayals in The Torture Trial of Louisa Calderon (1806)" focuses specially on the prominent case of the former British colonial governor of Trinidad, Brigadier-General Thomas Picton and his trial for the torture of the young, free woman of color Louisa Calderon. It argues that the case allowed Britons to link issues of imperial regime and colonial subjects to the masculine treatment of colonial women of color. Colonial elites and metropolitan reformers strategically employed visual and written portrayals of Louisa Calderon and Thomas Picton's free, mixed-race mistress, Rosetta Smith, to debate control over the colonial periphery and its subjects (strategies of militant control and sexual dominance vs. imperial reform and sexual restraint). This resulted in a debate over the character of black women and white men, a debate that posited a set of opposed fictional icons: the pure, vulnerable, black woman in need of protection from depraved and overly powerful corrupt white men or the evil temptresses from whom white society/white men needed protection.



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