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“To Make Her Own Bargains with Boats: Gender, Labor, and Freedom in the Western Steamboat World,” a talk by Dr. Alisha J. Hines

October 15, 2020 @ 7:00 pm 8:00 pm

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We are excited to announce the final lecture in our series of Water/Ways programs! On Thursday, October 15 at 7 pm, Dr. Alisha J. Hines will present “To Make Her Own Bargains with Boats: Gender, Labor, and Freedom in the Western Steamboat World.” Dr. Hines is a professor at Wake Forest University and her talk will provide examples of how waterways, the steamboat world in particular, created opportunities for black women to pursue freedom and independence in the nineteenth-century. This program is free, but registration is required.

By the 1840s and 50s, western river steamboats had become much more than conveyors of goods between major port cities. Steamboat owners increased their revenue by taking on passengers in addition to freight. Eventually, steamboats became a quite popular and culturally significant form of travel.

Free and enslaved black women have been rendered nearly invisible in the historical and popular imagination of the antebellum steamboat world. In our conversation with Dr. Hines, we will explore how black women navigated an environment that was fraught with danger but also brimming with opportunity. By examining closely the stories of a few black river women, we will learn that they played a critical role in the everyday maintenance of the steamboat industry and that they took advantage of opportunities created by the industry that were never intended for them. 

Photograph of chambermaids.
Photograph of chambermaids, courtesy of the Thomas H. and Joan W. Gandy Photograph Collection, LSU Libraries.

The story of the transformation of American life by way of revolutions in technology and economic exchange in this period is familiar but, until now, the ways in which black women experienced and navigated the new spatial, economic, and legal configurations that emerged have been left underexamined. Moreover, we can look to and through their navigations of this iconic river-scape to identify and bring focus to the contours and fault lines of the nation-scape as it took shape in this period. 

Dr. Alisha J. Hines received her Ph.D. from Duke University and is currently an Assistant Professor of History at Wake Forest University where she teaches Slavery, the Civil War & Reconstruction as well as the history of the Atlantic World. Dr. Hines is in the process of revising her manuscript, Geographies of Freedom: Gender, Mobility, and the Spectrum of Liberty in the Western River World.  


This program is free and open to the public. Registration is required. Instructions for joining the Zoom Webinar will be sent in advance of the program date.

Participants can register below or on eventbrite.com.

This event is part of Water/Ways, a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition that explores water’s environmental and cultural impact. Water/Ways is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and the North Carolina Humanities Council, and was adapted from an exhibition organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

This event is made possible by funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the North Carolina Humanities council.