Guest Post: Review of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture

Guest poster Evelyne Martial is a retired attorney. She received her JD from the Cincinnati College of Law. She is currently enrolled in the Gender and Cultural Studies Program at Simmons College.

EHIGH7751_418744arly on a cold, frigid morning in Washington, D.C., my husband and I stood at the tail end of a long, winding line to get into the Museum of African American History and Culture. It was too cold to walk around to view the architecture so we hustled over to the entry line as soon as we exited the cab. As we waited, clutching our prized full-page sized passes, we watched a line of yellow school buses deposit kids from elementary, middle, and high schools into the bright frigid air. Their peals of laughter and rambunctious playfulness resisted the cold air. Their faces, hues of browns and tans bundled in colorful puff jackets, were filled with excitement.  In line, a group of about six or seven women of African descent stood behind us. This group was from Los Angeles, California and had centered their annual get together around the visit to the Museum. They also were uncomfortably cold yet visibly excited about being here, particularly at this moment of our political lives. I wanted to find out more about them, but because it was so cold or the line was already so long at 10:00 a.m., the Museum staff diverted half of our line to another entryway. We lost contact with them and the children as we sped down the plaza to a much shorter line and before we knew it we were inside the Museum. Continue reading

Roundtable: Crafting Protest, Fashioning Politics: DIY Lessons from the American Revolution

This Colonial Couture post is by Zara Anishanslin, assistant professor of history and art history at the University of Delaware. Her latest book is Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World (Yale University Press, 2016). Follow her @ZaraAnishanslin.

Homespun, Thomas Eakins, 1881, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Homespun, Thomas Eakins, 1881, Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Please, sisters, back away from the pink.”

So women planning to attend the January 2017 Women’s Marches were urged by the writer of an opinion piece in The Washington Post. “Sorry knitters,” she continued, but making and wearing things like pink pussycat hats “undercuts the message that the march is trying to send….We need to be remembered for our passion and purpose, not our pink pussycat hats.”  To back up her point, the author opined that “bra burning” dominated—and thus damaged—popular (mis)conceptions of women’s rights protests in the 1960s. Please, ladies, she exhorted, don’t repeat the mistakes we made in the ‘60s by bringing fashion into politics. Continue reading

Roundtable: Of Records and Rituals: Native Americans and the Textile Trade

This Colonial Couture post is by Laura E. Johnson, associate curator at Historic New England. The exhibition Mementos: Jewelry of Life and Love from Historic New England, which she curated, will open at the Eustis Estate Museum in Milton, Massachusetts, in May 2017.

“Echatillons Etouffes d’angleterre a l’usage des Espagnolesen Europe y en Amerique,” (Samples of English stuffs in use by the Spanish in Europe and America), Joseph Downs Collection, Winterthur Museum and Library

I’d like to build on Kimberly Alexander’s question from last week, “How can we write history when we do not have the original object?” There are many ways to examine a textile and its context without the physical object, as she demonstrated so ably. Much of my research on Native peoples, identity construction, and the Atlantic textile trade is based by necessity on a combination of archival resources, rare portraits, and archaeological evidence. Trade records, price lists, descriptions of treaty meetings, and other archival sources offer a wide range of evidence about textiles and how Natives consumed them, even in the absence of the pieces themselves.

Textiles were among the most lucrative and desirable of imported objects in the early Atlantic economy.[1] The French, Dutch, and British all relied heavily on textile production for a substantial portion of their national revenue. Woolens and linens raised, spun, woven and finished in these areas drove international commerce from the 13th century.[2] Native Americans presented an enormous potential market for their products as the domestic market became increasingly saturated. As one scholar has stated, it could have been termed the “cloth trade as easily as the deerskin trade.”[3] Continue reading

Roundtable: New York’s Original Fashion Industry

This Colonial Couture post is by guest contributor William Howard Carter, assistant professor of history at The College of New Jersey. He is currently revising his book manuscript, “The Hideous and the Beautiful: The Power of Bodily Decorations in Iroquoia, 1550-1850.” 

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians (Benjamin West, 1771-72)

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians (Benjamin West, 1771-72)

When was the fashion industry established in New York? With its eye towards the future and its accolades bestowed on the visionaries that best imagine the trends to come, it is hard for us to think of the fashion industry as anything but modern. Fashion tantalizes us with glimpses of the future that are not yet real but could, through the power of fashion, soon be made so. Yet those visions of possible futures are rooted in history. In Manhattan, that history stretches back over 400 years, before the supposed purchase of the island of Manhattan by Dutch colonists. Continue reading

Roundtable: Colonial Couture

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Christian Dior (2011) and Dorothy Quincy Hancock Scott (ca. 1772)

You’re invited…to The Junto’s first roundtable on fashion as history in early American life. In step with New York Fashion Week, we’ll present a new perspective daily on how the material question of “what people wore” shaped personal politics and national identity. We’re, er, bursting at the seams with guest contributors, so watch this space for a new post (or two!) every day. Thanks to a diverse array of scholars, over the next week we’ll get a better look at the sartorial identities of the enslaved; explore Native Americans’ role in the textile trade; take in the view from Benjamin Franklin’s Versailles; meet the artisans who bound up the loose threads of Atlantic World couture; and more. Continue reading

Guest Post: Dress and West African Desire

Jessica Blake is a PhD candidate in U.S. History at the University of California-Davis, where she is completing a dissertation entitled, “A Taste for Africa: Imperial Fantasy and Clothes Commerce in Revolutionary-era New Orleans.” She is currently a dissertation fellow at the Winterthur Museum and Archive.

Linen Market, Dominica, by Agostino Brunias (1780), Yale Center for British Art

Linen Market, Dominica, by Agostino Brunias (1780), Yale Center for British Art

In 1808, the New Orleans trader John Joly placed an advertisement in the Moniteur de la Louisiane for a shipment of large Angola shawls (grands shals d’Angola), a rectangular cloth of African construction meant to drape over the shoulders. Joly marketed the cloth for the general consumer, making no indication that he considered it a product intended solely for use by enslaved or free people of color.[1]
Continue reading

Review: Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk

Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic WorldNew Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

A silk worm begins wrapping itself round in a cocoon, encasing itself in its fiber. Faceless hands unravel the cocoon, turning it into a single linear thread, the thread then woven together with other linear threads unraveled by other faceless hands until all the threads, warped and wefted, form a connected fabric. Finally, completing the circle, a woman poses for a portrait, wrapped up in yard upon yard of silk, another body encased and shrouded.

It’s a fitting prologue and introduction to Zara Anishanslin’s Portrait of a Woman in Silk, a study in—literally and figuratively—the threads that connected and constructed the eighteenth-century British Atlantic Empire. Anishanslin’s book is not quite like any book that I’ve ever read before. It meanders—but with purpose: from Spitalfields Market in London, to an imagined college in Bermuda, to a parlor in Lancaster crowded with soldiers and military waggoners; from the inner mechanics of the loom, to the symbols within Milton’s Paradise Lost, to the aesthetics of colonial orchards and gardens; from cultural to intellectual to political to spatial to economic to material history. It defies traditional sub-disciplinary designations by design. Anishanslin’s ambitious first book draws inspiration from leading figures in material culture studies—Robert Blair St. George, T. H. Breen, Richard Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and others—but also draws inspiration from book historians like Robert Darnton, from economic historians, from religious historians, and from historians of transatlantic intellectual and epistolary networks. Continue reading