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Beyond the Book

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 3 illus., 2 tables, appends., notes, index

Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia

Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia

ISBN  978-0-8078-5761-8
Published: September 2006

Rape and Sexual Power in Early America

By Sharon Block

In a comprehensive examination of rape and its prosecution in British America between 1700 and 1820, Sharon Block exposes the dynamics of sexual power on which colonial and early republican Anglo-American society was based.

Block analyzes the legal, social, and cultural implications of more than nine hundred documented incidents of sexual coercion and hundreds more extralegal commentaries found in almanacs, newspapers, broadsides, and other print and manuscript sources. Highlighting the gap between reports of coerced sex and incidents that were publicly classified as rape, Block demonstrates that public definitions of rape were based less on what actually happened than on who was involved. She challenges conventional narratives that claim sexual relations between white women and black men became racially charged only in the late nineteenth century. Her analysis extends racial ties to rape back into the colonial period and beyond the boundaries of the southern slave-labor system. Early Americans' treatment of rape, Block argues, both enacted and helped to sustain the social, racial, gender, and political hierarchies of a New World and a new nation.

About the Author

Sharon Block is associate professor of history at the University of California, Irvine.


"Block deftly navigates . . . complicated matters in her thoroughly researched monograph."
--Journal of African American History

"Likely to generate excellent discussions in women's studies, women's history and early American history classrooms. . . . Block has demonstrated that rape does indeed have a history."
--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Ambitious . . . Extensively researched. . . . [This] provocative and well-argued book will change the way scholars think about rape. . . . A nuanced analysis."
--The William and Mary Quarterly

"This book's strength lies in the cultural and intellectual history of gender and race through the analysis of texts; the author parses a host of judicial cases and other recorded incidents of rape and sexual assault. In this respect, the book has no equal for the time and places it considers."
--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"An original and multifaceted exploration. . . . Combines . . . methodological approaches of social, legal, and cultural history to offer many perspectives on rape, and it does so within a sophisticated theoretical framework that spans literary, legal, and historical analyses of gender, power, sexuality, race, and colonialism. . . . Will surely become standard reading for scholars of early American history, women's history more broadly, and students of gender, race, sexuality and power."
--Journal of Social History

“Unravels the power dynamics of rape by merging microhistories of individual women with macrohistories of institutional and cultural views of sexual behavior.”

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