February 21, 2012—University of Oregon associate professor Michelle McKinley, School of Law, has been awarded a prestigious American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship.
McKinley’s fellowship will support her continued work on the book manuscript “Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Legal Activism and Ecclesiastical Courts, 1589-1700.” The UO Center for the Study of Women in Society awarded faculty research grants in 2009 and 2011 in support of McKinley’s archival research for this project, which “uses the lens of legal history, and legal anthropology to examine litigation undertaken by Peruvian slaves in 17th century ecclesiastical courts.” McKinley also credits the CSWS 2010 Writing and Promotion Workshop with benefiting her work on this manuscript.
McKinley, a former CSWS executive board member who is now an active faculty affiliate and member of the center’s Women of Color Project, says about her research: “‘Fractional Freedoms’ situates enslaved women as legal agents who simultaneously occupied multiple identities as mistresses, workers, wives, mothers, wet-nurses, and domestics that conditioned their experience of slavery. While I did not want to romanticize the experience of enslaved families, I was struck by the use of legal avenues to pursue family integrity that appear so frequently in Latin American ecclesiastical courts in comparison with their virtual absence in United States courts. I wanted to add these valiant efforts of slave couples to the canon of knowledge about the slave family, and look at the broader role of courts in slave litigation.”
Despite the variable outcomes of their lawsuits, McKinley “explores how enslaved women used channels of affection and sexuality to access freedom and prevent the generational transmission of enslavement to their children. Although attentive to the overarching oppressive structures of slavery, the book reveals instances in the lives of enslaved women when they acted as subjects other than human property. A retrospective look at these proceedings tells us how litigants strategically exploited the rhetorical power of liberty within the ecclesiastical courts and navigated between slavery and marriage in pursuing fractions of freedom.”