Interview with Rebecca J. Scott: On Latin America

Source: History News Network


Did you always want to be a historian?  When did you make the decision and why?

Like many members of my generation, I followed a winding path toward a professional career.  I wrote a master’s thesis in 17th century English women’s history, worked as a proofreader for a local newspaper, taught secondary school, and even did a brief stint as a cutter in a fish-packing plant before enrolling in a doctoral program.  I had been involved in the anti-war movement as an undergraduate, and I think it was the 1973 coup d’état in Chile that pushed me toward the full-time study of Latin America.  During my first year as a doctoral student I got an hourly research job working for Ira Berlin and Herbert Gutman, alongside my course work in Latin American history with Stanley Stein.  All three of them were charismatic and committed scholars, and major historians of slave societies. In retrospect, it is no wonder that I was quickly persuaded that the study of slavery and emancipation was both urgent and fascinating.

What are you hoping the reader will get out of your book?

The central focus of Degrees of Freedom is the question: What determines the nature of freedom and the boundaries of citizenship in a society where slavery has recently been abolished?  But rather than addressing this question exclusively with the tools of social science, I have tried to carry the analysis forward by tracing the lives of individuals and families on both sides of the Gulf of Mexico as they sought rights and resources.  I hope that by the end of the book, the reader will understand something of the dynamics of legal and social change – while accepting the fact that I cannot give a clear and simple answer to the “Why?” question.