In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pregnancy and Reproduction

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources: Online Collections and Digital Databases
  • Cultural Histories of Gender and (The Pregnant) Body
  • Empire and Reproduction
  • Eugenics and Population Control
  • Family Planning: Abortion and Contraception
  • Infanticide, Miscarriage, and Maternal and Infant Mortality
  • In Defense of Mother and Infant: Welfare, Public Policy, and the State
  • In-Womb Anxieties: Embryology, Fetal Visualization, and Amniocentesis
  • Legislation, Policing, and the Criminalization of Motherhood and Pregnancy
  • Midwifery, Obstetrics, and Gynecology
  • Racial Politics and Racialization of Reproduction
  • Religion and Theology
  • Reproduction and Enslavement
  • Reproductive Justice, Reproductive Activism, and Obstetric Violence
  • The Fate of the Child: Illegitimacy, Child Circulation, and Adoption

Atlantic History Pregnancy and Reproduction
Elizabeth A. O'Brien, Bonnie A. Lucero
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 March 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 March 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0346


Until recently, monographs addressing reproduction were relatively rare in scholarship on the Atlantic world. Although studies of gender have proliferated over the last thirty years, the field still has no single body of literature on reproduction itself. Rather, there are multiple distinct—and sometimes overlapping—thematic fields and national or regionally based literatures. Within these, pregnancy has implicitly and explicitly intersected with questions of race, gender, class, sexuality, disability, healthcare, mortality, religion, enslavement, and justice. Emergent literature has developed with particular vigor around themes of slavery and the slave trade, colonization and empire, and eugenics. This article approaches the Atlantic world as a global crossroads that is fundamentally interconnected with other world regions. This approach has led to an emphasis on the Americas, especially Latin America and the Caribbean, as they are regions profoundly influenced by empire and enslavement. There is a particular dearth in the historical scholarship on reproduction in Atlantic Africa, although this article includes a few histories of motherhood in East Africa; also although historical scholarship is lacking, there is a wealth of work on pregnancy and childbirth in contemporary Africa. Some of the most important thematic trajectories across these bodies of scholarship are demarcated here, with emphasis on breadth, methodological innovation, geographic coverage, and impact in the field. Also included is a sampling of classics and newer scholarship, with some reference to emerging scholarship as well. Whenever possible non-English language work is highlighted, as it is far too often marginalized and uncited. Monographs are prioritized whenever possible, and readers should note that many of the scholars cited below have a wealth of relevant articles in addition to their books. The collections are not intended to be exhaustive, but rather suggestive and generative. Following the first sub-section, which is on Primary Sources: Online Collections and Digital Databases, the subsections are organized alphabetically by subtitle. In 2018, Nick Hopwood, Rebecca Flemming, and Lauren Kassell published an admirable and sweeping Cambridge history entitled Reproduction: From Antiquity to the Present Day. The volume includes forty-three chapters and has wide temporal and geographic scope. Although the Cambridge textbook includes the Atlantic world, the chapters are more globally oriented, and do not present an Atlantic view per se. In the works cited below, readers will see the arc of a particularly Atlantic story—one centering issues of justice, freedom, intimacy, and agency, as well as cultural negotiation, conflict, and change. These all manifest in the contexts of colonialism, postcolonialism, and the interconnected worlds of African, Indigenous, Asian, and settler-European communities in the Americas. Finally, a focus on women’s reproduction reifies the essentialized category of normative cis-gender maternity. This reflects a trend in the literature itself, which—with the work of Rachel Ginnis Fuchs on paternity being a notable exception—tends to pay more attention to women’s reproduction than to male contributions to reproduction and childrearing.

Primary Sources: Online Collections and Digital Databases

Primary sources in this field can be grouped into three general categories: digital repositories and resources; edited (and/or translated) primary sources in print; and archival sources to which one would have to travel in order to consult. We have listed some general digital repositories and resources below—these are History of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean, The Wellcome Library, the US National Library of Medicine, and História, Ciências, Saúde—Manguinhos. These digital collections all contain broad sources of information about medicine, meaning that they defy more specific categorization. Other digital resources are listed—such as the eugenics archive—in the corresponding subsections (i.e., Eugenics and Population Control), as has been done for the edited (and/or translated) primary sources in print (i.e., a translated and printed primary source about infanticide is in the section entitled Infanticide, Miscarriage, and Maternal and Infant Mortality). Not listed are archives to which travel would be required, simply because there are too many of them to schematize.

  • História, Ciências, Saúde—Manguinhos. In Casa de Oswaldo Cruz. Directed by Paulo Roberto Elian dos Santos. Rio de Janeiro: Brazil.

    A quarterly publication of the Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, a division within the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation of Brazil. A major resource in the history of medicine in Latin America and the Caribbean, the publication features leading scholarship in the field as well as links to, and information on, primary source collections related to reproduction and pregnancy.

  • History of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean.

    HOSLAC is a comprehensive database of primary sources on the history of science in Latin America and the Caribbean. HOSLAC is an excellent teaching resource that includes short introductory essays familiarizing students with the topics, as well as secondary source reading recommendations and discussion questions.

  • US National Library of Medicine.

    The National Library of Medicine has an extensive digital collection, which contains a free online repository of biomedical resources, including those on pregnancy and reproduction.

  • The Wellcome Library.

    The Wellcome Library contains a significant collection, the History of Medicine Collection, with many resources related to the histories of gender, reproduction, and pregnancy. The print collection contains materials published from 1850, and the electronic resources include e-books, online journals, and archived websites.

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