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014 and 2015 were violent years. The shooting

of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, led

Americans to take a closer look at incidents of

racially motivated violence and the problems in

policing. Lesser known homicides, like that of April Jace,

resulted in discussions about spousal murder and abuse,

and the how the criminal justice system handles domestic

violence before it escalates. These violent episodes are

mere drops in the bucket of a much larger systemic

problem of violence in the U.S., and these issues have

been with us for a much longer period of time than most

people think.

As the ADIE research fellow over the last year, I was

well-positioned to respond to these events. My new book

project focuses on the relationship between violence and

civil rights in early United States history. Over the past

academic year, I wrote and researched chapters on the

ways African Americans and married women contested

violence during an era when their legal rights to serve

as plaintiffs against their husbands and whites were

comprised by customs and laws, including slavery and

the doctrine of coverture, which denied married women a

legal identity outside of her husband.

I shared my findings with the IU Southeast community

in several ways. Dr. Elizabeth Gritter and I held an

event in March where we preseted our research on the

way violence affected African Americans in the past and

the ways they fought back to successfully claim access

to political and public spaces. In April, I presented my

research on spousal assault and rape at the Social Sciences

Forum and the Women and Gender Studies “Happening.”

I was also able to share my research with my students in

the classroom. After examining court records from the era,

I transcribed two stunning cases in which slave masters

were tried in New York City for assaulting their slaves, and

I distributed it as a reading assignment. I asked students

to free write their thoughts on the relationship between

slavery and violence, as well as how they felt the judicial

system handled the cases. Reading these individual cases

personalized their understanding of slavery and moved

them beyond numbers and generalizations to consider the

real impact of the system.

Violence structures hierarchy; it affects the way we

interact with each other, our mobility and our expectations

and experiences within the criminal justice system. As I

continue to work on this project, I look forward to sharing

my findings with IU Southeast and the local community

and broaden our understandings of the roots of violence.

My most recent publication on this project, “The Spirit of

Contradiction: Wife Abuse in New England, 1780-1830,”

appeared in

Early American Studies

(Summer 2015). I

am grateful to IU Southeast for supporting this work as I

complete the manuscript.