WSU News

Award helps prof complete unique book about slavery

Sue PeabodyVANCOUVER, Wash. – A faculty member has won a research fellowship to complete a collection of life stories of an enslaved 18th century woman and her children living in French and British colonies in the Indian Ocean.

The American Council of Learned Societies awarded Sue Peabody, professor of history at Washington State University Vancouver, a fellowship to complete her book, “Slavery and Emancipation in the Indian Ocean World: A Family Biography.” The $65,000 fellowship will allow Peabody to write during her 2013-2014 sabbatical leave.

One of 65 scholars to be selected for the fellowship out of more than 1,100 applicants nationwide, Peabody was chosen for her scholarly record, the potential of her project to advance her field of study and the quality of her proposal.

Research for this project has already taken Peabody to archives in Paris, London and the Indian Ocean islands of La Réunion and Mauritius. She will travel this spring to Paris and Aix-en-Provence, France through WSU’s Edward G. Meyer Professor of Liberal Arts fellowship.

Peabody’s book collects the life stories of Madeleine – a woman sold into slavery in 18th century Bengal – and her children living in slavery in the French and British colonies of Île Bourbon and Mauritius. Using rare historical documents, including letters by Madeleine’s son, Furcy, Peabody has constructed a historical narrative of the changing world of slavery and freedom from 1750 to 1850.

By focusing on slavery’s impact on a single family across generations, Peabody’s biography will encourage readers to consider what enslavement and freedom truly meant and how French culture and emerging forces of global capitalism transformed the societies of the Old World.

Most histories of slavery focus on the Atlantic world, but slavery existed in almost all societies until its abolition in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“When most Americans think of slavery, they picture ‘Gone with the Wind’ or ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’” Peabody said. “In fact, slavery existed for thousands of years before Columbus, but it was not defined by racial difference until the colonization of the Americas.

“This book will put a human face on that experience and allow the reader to consider how modern systems of agriculture transformed labor and society, not only in the Americas, but around the world,” she said. “It’s a story about modernization and new ideas about citizenship.”

ACLS is the leading private institution supporting scholars in the humanities and social sciences at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels. In 2012, ACLS gave more than $15 million in fellowship stipends and other awards to more than 320 scholars. The ACLS fellowship is funded through an endowment supported by numerous institutions, including Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and others.