WGS Colloquium, 'This Giving Birth':The Politics of Pregnancy and Childbirth in African American Women's History and Literature

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The Daily Nebraskan featured an article about the WGS Fall 2013 Colloquium Series, "Reproductive Issues: Past and Present" and the third talk in the series "'This Giving Birth':The Politics of Pregnancy and Childbirth in African American Women's History and Literature."

Lecture to focus on historical exploitation of pregnancy among black women
Monday, November 12, 2012 12:30 am

An observation by students in a summer course has turned into an ongoing research project for Kathleen Lacey, a graduate teaching assistant in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s English department.

As the third event of “Reproduction Issues: Past and Present,” the 2012 Women’s and Gender Studies department’s colloquium series, Lacey will present her lecture “This Giving Birth” on Monday to share that research with UNL students.

This summer, one of her classes read a poem by Audre Lorde: “Now That I am Forever With Child.”

“My students pointed out that this is the first piece of literature that didn’t look at motherhood as some sort of burden,” she said. “From there … I decided to look back (through history.)”

Lacey’s lecture will look at medical experimentation on the black population and the history and literature involving pregnancy and childbirth among black women. Much of the focus, she said, will examine the exploitation of black women’s pregnant bodies and how literature that explores pregnancy is viewed among readers of the time.

The colloquium is an interdisciplinary venture that analyzes issues involving reproduction from a variety of angles.

“We really wanted to highlight the different ways that different scholars can address these issues, but all still be talking about a similar topic or theme,” said Catherine Medici-Thiemann, a graduate assistant in women’s and gender studies, who is in charge of organizing the colloquium.

The annual colloquium has a different topic each year, but this year, they really wanted to focus on people who are doing research on the UNL campus. Through discussions in a focus group on gender and science, Medici-Thiemann realized a lot of people at UNL were analyzing reproductive issues through the lens of their own discipline, which prompted this year’s topic.

While she said many of the attendees came as a part of their discipline’s involvement in the colloquium, Medici-Thiemann added each lecture should appeal to a wide audience and that anyone could learn from it.

“I think it’s a fascinating kind of theme this semester that relates to a lot of different people,” she said. “We try and do talks that we think will have a broad interest and relate to a lot of people’s interests.”

Lacey said she hopes her lecture will appeal to a broad audience, including anyone interested in learning about history, African American women’s literature, biology or medicine.

“I think maybe medical students, especially those interested in biological disorders and childbirth (would be interested),” she said. “I think some of this history is really worth knowing and how it still kind of effects how black women receive health care.”

Because Lacey hasn’t been working on the project for long, she said she is a little worried about not having complete material yet.

“I always feel like I can do more research,” she said. “I want to make sure that I know everything I can.”

And because her topic encompasses so many areas in which she can research, learning it all might be difficult.

Lacey said she hopes the interdisciplinary nature of her talk, which combines biological, historical and literary perspectives, will draw a large crowd. She also said her talk may get students and other attendees to think about their own views about race, gender and childbirth.

“It’s a part of our cultural history, and it’ll also address a lot of racial stereotypes that people I think still hold, especially in terms of government services like welfare,” Lacey said. “I think that those particular stereotypes need to be sort of aired and discussed as part of this longer legacy.”