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Of Human Bondage: The History of Slavery in California

Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 2:00pm

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Room 39
121 Wall St.
New Haven, CT 06511

The many people seized into forced labor in California—Aleutians Islanders, Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese Americans, sailors, convicts, and hostages of human trafficking—alter our comprehension of the golden state. Many of these stories live at the Beinecke in the public and private words and images of unfree, unpaid, indentured, chattel, "trafficked" and enslaved Aleutian Islanders, Mexican Americans and Californios, Chinese prostitutes, African Americans, indigenous Californians who globalized the state and give voice to enslaved Californians' own perspectives. This talk focuses on three eras of slavery in California: the capture of Aleutian otter hunters by Russian fur traders who sailed into the cold waters with the first slaves transported to California to hunt otters; African Americans transported to the gold fields who faced California’s own Fugitive Slave Law of 1852, and forged a west-coast Underground Railroad; girls kidnapped from the southern coast of China, sold in dens in San Francisco and the gold fields. Unfree and involuntary labor is critical to understanding California’s diverse people, abuse of its fragile ecosystems, competition and coalitions among ethnic minorities, early labor organizations, and successful demands for reparations. These histories alter our readings of modern narratives of slavery--from Django Unchained to invocations of the "3/5th compromise."

Jean Pfaelzer is Professor of American Studies, Asian Studies, English and Women’s Studies at the University of Delaware.   During Spring, 2011, she was awarded the Senior Fulbright in American Culture at the University of Utrecht, NL.  She is the author of Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans (Random House, Hardback & University of California Press, Paperback, 2007, 2008), the author of four other books including The Utopian Novel in America, and Parlor Radical: The Origins of American Social Realism.  Jean has an advance contract for forthcoming book Of Human Bondage: Slavery in California (University of California Press).

Jean Pfaelzer received her PhD from University College, London, Graduate Certificate in Politics and Culture from Cambridge University (Dir. Raymond Williams) and BA and MA from Univ. California, Berkeley (Dir. Henry Nash Smith). She has served as Chair of the International Women’s Task Force of the American Studies Association, on the International Committee of ASA, and the Women’s Committee of ASA.  She has taught and delivered lectures at Xi’an International Studies University, China, and at the Universities of Granada, Malaga, Barcelona, Seville, in Spain; Universities of Utrecht, Leiden, Nijmegen , Netherlands; Univ. at Thessaloniki, GR; University of Norwich, UK, and University of Coimbra, Portugal, amongst other places. She has served as the Executive Director of the National Labor Law Center, and as Senior Legislative Analyst for Hon. Frank McCloskey, US House of Representatives, on issues of immigration, labor, and women. She speaks frequently on National Public Radio on issues of immigration and labor. Driven Out was named one of the 100 notable books of the year by the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Top Ten Books of the Year by Choice, and based on her research Pfaelzer was named Asian American Hero.  Jean is on the Scholars Council of the National Women’s History Museum and was a consultant on the “1882 Project” which passed the US Senate and House of Representative in spring 2012 to acknowledge the history of anti-Chinese legislation.  She was awarded the A. Bartlett Giamatti Fellowship for research at the Beinecke Rare Books Library, 2012.  She writes for Huffington Post, History News Network, and The Globalist.

She is currently completing an article, Muted Mutinies: Revolts on Chinese Coolie Ships. Her research at Yale is for archival work toward Of Human Bondage: Slavery in California.  Jean’s past research and presentations at the Beinecke were in the Peter Palmquist Collection of photographs of the American west.

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