September 27, 2006
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Martha Hodes, a professor of history at New York University, will speak about “Writing a Transnational Family Story: Reflections on Love and Race across Borders” in the Pruyne Lecture Hall (Fayerweather 115) at Amherst College at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Sponsored by the Amherst College Dean of Faculty and the Five College Crossroads in the Study of the Americas, the lecture will be free and open to the public, and will be followed by a reception and book signing.
Hodes’ talk will draw on her new book, The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century (2006), which reconstructs the intriguing life of Eunice Richardson Stone Connolly, a 19th-century New England mill laborer who went south with her husband to seek their fortune. As her husband fought for the Confederacy, she returned homesick to New Hampshire and worked as a washerwoman, yet found respectability in her poverty because her skin was white. But to the mystification of relatives, she put that respectability at risk after her husband’s death and married a well-to-do black sea captain from Grand Cayman Island.
Hodes, who earlier wrote White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (1999), relied on a cache of Connolly’s letters for The Sea Captain’s Wife. In her Amherst talk, she will discuss the historical significance of transnational lives, illuminating the process of writing about an ordinary woman who led an extraordinary life. She will reflect on historical actors who challenged imposed racial classifications; the interplay between local and global arenas, including the balance between the historian’s expansive vision and the more confined day-to-day experiences of historical actors; and narrative strategies that take into account the problem of sources and the intertwining of story-telling and scholarly argument.
Inspired by her research for The Sea Captain’s Wife, Hodes has turned to a new project, exploring the historical uses and meanings of narratives about human skin color, in which she reads legal, scientific, medical, military and literary sources to challenge the dominant ideological equation of whiteness and purity, with crucial attention to transnational racial systems.