Jennifer L. Morgan's Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery is an academic work that was published in 2004. Morgan received her B.A. from Oberlin College in 1986, and completed her PhD in 1995 at Duke University. Morgan now works as history professor at New York University. Her primary area of study is the history of the Atlantic slave trade seen through the lens of gender and sexuality analysis. Morgan also holds positions with the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Association of Black Women Historians.
Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery was Morgan's first major work. Relying on her education as an Atlantic slave trade historian, Morgan charts the history of women in the slave trade. She first focuses on the ways in which slavery was rationalized in Europe. She then moves to a harrowing depiction of the operation itself. Like never before, Morgan provides a human face for the millions of women that were kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery in North America. The work probes all angle of the experience, including the social, religious, and sexual implications. Throughout this narrative, Morgan continually reaches back into the annals of Pre-Contact after. In this way, she refutes the failed scholarship that only studies slavery in the context of the colonizer and the slave-owner. Instead, Morgan presents a detailed depiction of the slave placed within their own history and context.
At the heart of Morgan's thesis is the role of women as mothers, as evidenced by the title of book. On one hand, this was an asset, as slave-children would become properties of the slaveowner. Enslaved women were also frequently took as mistresses by slave owners, a problematic subject handled by Morgan with a leveled and academic approach. Yet on the other hand, childbearing kept women from work. Morgan ponders this duality while telling the story of female slaves in incredible detail. In doing so, she draws from a large number of primary and academic documents.
Laboring Women is a comprehensive, well-researched and ingenious work. It handles the horrible topics of slavery, rape, and brutalism with tact and humanity. While it was seen as a novel approach to the study of slavery, it undoubtedly influenced the work that followed.