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As If She Were Free is about the emancipatory acts of African and African-descended women in the Americas from the sixteenth through the early twentieth century. The stories of some two dozen individuals discussed in these chapters constitute a collective biography that narrates the history of emancipation as experienced by women in the western hemisphere. This history began upon the arrival of enslaved people from Africa in the Americas in the early sixteenth century and continued into the twentieth century as their descendants pursued an ongoing quest for liberty. As If She Were Free narrates this individual and collective struggle – in which African-descended women spoke and acted in ways that declared that they had a right to determine the course of their lives. This book, a collective biography of women who renounced their commodification and exploitation, articulates a new feminist history of freedom.
As If She Were Free brings together the biographies of twenty-four women of African descent to reveal how enslaved and recently freed women sought, imagined, and found freedom from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries in the Americas. Our biographical approach allows readers to view large social processes – migration, trade, enslavement, emancipation – through the perspective of individual women moving across the boundaries of slavery and freedom. For some women, freedom meant liberation and legal protection from slavery, while others focused on gaining economic, personal, political, and social rights. Rather than simply defining emancipation as a legal status that was conferred by those in authority and framing women as passive recipients of freedom, these life stories demonstrate that women were agents of emancipation, claiming free status in the courts, fighting for liberty, and defining and experiencing freedom in a surprising and inspiring range of ways.
In 1725, Jane Webb, a free woman of color, sued Thomas Savage, a slave owner and middling planter, in Northampton County Court, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Webb v. Savage was an unusual lawsuit, the culmination of over twenty years of legal wrangling between two parties who had an uncommon and intimate connection. The case originated in a 1703 contract between the pair, and at the time it was written, its terms, assumedly, were clear and mutually agreed upon. Two decades later, however, a tangled skein of circumstances obscured the stipulations of that original agreement. Over the course of those same years, the legal meaning of freedom for individuals like Jane Webb had fundamentally changed. Both fraught interpersonal relations and the evolution of race-based law mattered to the 1725 chancery case for one simple reason: Thomas Savage owned Jane Webb's husband. Despite the fact that Webb's spouse, named only in the records as Left, was enslaved, their marriage was legally recognized, and the seven children born to the couple, following the legal doctrine partus sequitur ventrum, took their free status as well as their surname from their mother.
For more than five decades, various nonhuman primate species have been studied to determine how early rearing experiences influence behaviour in later life. Because of this wealth of information, the nonhuman primate literature is extremely useful for application to the giant panda in developing appropriate methodologies, testing hypotheses and understanding the breadth of behavioural outcomes that might result from different types of early socialisation. Although we recognise the limitations of comparing these distantly related taxa, we believe that the depth of controlled nonhuman primate studies makes comparisons worthwhile and of scholarly interest. Given the close phylogenetic relationship between the giant panda and other carnivores within the superfamily Canoidea (Ewer, 1973; O'Brien et al., 1985), other species within this group may also be useful comparative models, and these are also briefly reviewed.
Giant pandas in captivity can experience inadequate sexual behaviour, maternal behavioural deficits and severe aggression, which is also common to bears, other carnivores and nonhuman primates. It is our general hypothesis that socialisation (particularly the early relationship between mother and cub) is important in the ontogeny of normal social behaviour. Our long-term goal is to develop and evaluate management interventions that will overcome behavioural inadequacies and contribute to creating a naturally reproducing, self-sustaining and genetically viable population (Lindburg et al., 1997; Zheng et al., 1997; Zhang et al., 2000; see also Chapter 21).
Most captive giant pandas are housed, bred and raised in breeding centres and zoos in China.