With Spring Break upon us, many may think of Barbados for its beach resorts and beautiful weather — but Marisa J. Fuentes has uncovered something much darker about the history of the island nation.
Fuentes, associate professor of women’s and gender studies and history at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, participated in the Author Discussion Series held at the Bull's Head Bookshop Thursday afternoon. She discussed her first book, “Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive,” which focuses on the lives of female slaves in Bridgetown, Barbados, in the 18th century.
Director of the Stone Center Joseph Jordan introduced Fuentes to her audience.
“Today we have a very interesting and important guest,” Jordan said. “I had heard the name, and I had seen things about her work, but hadn’t focused on it. I’m so glad that she is here with us now.”
After her introduction, Fuentes first spoke of the original idea behind her book, which was a comparison of the enslavement of women in Charleston, S.C., and Bridgetown, Barbados.
“I wanted to do something diasporic,” Fuentes said. “I wanted to bridge the United States with other parts of the African diaspora, but then I read back into South Carolina history and realized that Barbados is the origin of the Carolinas.”
After coming to this realization, Fuentes redirected the focus of her writing to Bridgetown. She searched the archives for many months and wrote her book so as to look at the perspective of the enslaved women.
Having explained the focus of her work, Fuentes then read excerpts from the fifth chapter and epilogue of her book. The fifth chapter focused on the terrible treatment of female slaves, while the epilogue focused more on her process in finding information about these women.
Fuentes admitted that she had difficulty spending so much time with such a dark subject.
“After I finished writing, I felt like I couldn’t show anyone because I was reproducing that violence,” she said. “It took a long, long time.”
Yet Fuentes felt that the work she was doing was so vital, as too much focus is placed on the resistance of the slaves instead of the violent treatment they faced in both academic study and pop culture.
“It’s much easier to write about resistance,” she said. “We all need to have that hope.”
Fuentes’ hard work paid off when she won both the 2016 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize and the 2017 Caribbean Studies Association Barbara Christian Prize.
Many UNC students were in attendance for the discussion.
“I really just enjoyed listening to her perspective and how she interprets the archives,” first-year Ariana Gales said. “She talked a lot about telling the negative side of history, so I thought that was really cool.”
Fuentes also spoke to students about how her work faced several critics prior to its publication and how she ignored those comments by publishing the work that she wanted to publish. She fought hard to make sure that the perspectives of these women were heard.
“I refused the limits of history because I think it produced another kind of violence,” Fuentes said. “Buying into methods that require large empirical data ignores the fact that the majority of the people that were experiencing the violence are not going to leave a record behind.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.