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

Hidden Bureaucratic Forget-me-nots and What to Make of Ubiquity

2015-01-07 15.49.56When wading through account books, muster rolls, and other dry military records, I don’t usually get a sense of the author—there might be a name jotted down, or maybe some distinctive handwriting, but hardly any evidence of personality. Reading through a 1758 orderly book from the Oneida Carry was much the same: a recounting of paroles, provisions, parades, and troop preparations. And then, curiously, tucked between the routine orders and work details, on the bottom of the 51st page:

When This You See Remember me.[1]

An—abruptly elegant—personal appeal hidden in the middle of a bureaucratic record, a record covering the various minutiae of one regiment of the vast British military apparatus but containing no information (other than a name) about the man who had chronicled them all. What on earth was it doing here?

This post began as a simple question about the meaning of private voices in the state record and quickly became something a little more meandering—tracing a phrase, finding its ubiquity in the British Atlantic, and then, in that broader context, pondering how and why it came to be on the page of an official military document. Continue reading