|“My dissertation committee … felt that the implications of my research were so important … that it had to be published.” |
Sommerville’s research also showed that there was a greater tolerance than previously thought among whites for intimacy between black males and white females. “My dissertation committee at Rutgers University felt that the implications of my research were so important to many fields [Southern history, history of women, history of sexuality and African-American history] that it had to be published,” she explains. She landed an advance contract with the University of North Carolina Press, the premier press for Southern history, particularly Southern women’s history. The book, published in November 2004, has been described by one scholar as a “controversial and beautifully researched work that should have a large impact on the writing of Southern history.”
Rape and Race is Sommerville’s first book, but she has written a number of essays and articles on race and sex in the South. Her recent article, “Moonlight, Magnolias and Brigadoon,” is a criticism of historian Eugene Genovese’s book Roll, Jordan, Roll, which, she contends is incredibly indifferent to the sexual exploitation of female slaves.
The topics of race and sex may be a common thread among Sommerville’s writings, but the range of courses she teaches — Women’s History, Civil War and Reconstruction, 20th-century United States and Introduction to Women’s Studies — highlights her versatility and diverse interests. She is currently exploring how white Southerners responded to defeat, loss and depression following the Civil War. Her findings suggest that men were more likely to take their lives when they experienced economic failure, while women were driven to suicide because of a personal loss such as the death of a husband or a child. “I’m captivated by it all,” she enthuses.