We are seeking papers for a session proposal on “Fabric and Gender in the Middle Ages,” medieval and/or early modern cloth-making in wool, cotton, linen, or silk, as well as dress, fashion, or accessories, for the Eighth European Social Science History conference in Ghent, Belgium, April 13-16, 2010. We wish to propose this session for three of the conference’s networks, “Women and Gender,” and “Material and Consumer Culture,” and/or the “Middle Ages.” Papers which explore literary, artistic or material sources from interdisciplinary perspectives are particularly welcome, for the insights they offer social scientists. If you are interested, please submit a paper proposal to Shennan Hutton at firstname.lastname@example.org, by April 25, 2009.
Recent attention to medieval textiles and dress and their representations in art, literature, law and clerical discourse has yielded another category of analysis with which to rethink the relationships among material culture, economic production, trade, and various cultural representations. Display of fashionable garments, for example, carried social meaning, marking wealth, social status, and partisan alliances in courts and local settings, but circulation of used garments, imitation of dress and accessories, and cross-cultural trade spread and transformed those meanings across social and cultural boundaries.
The manufacture and trade of wool, linen, cotton and silk textiles were also critically important to economic growth and development, in a way which was profoundly gendered. Although premodern women spent inordinate amounts of time spinning, weaving, and doing other tasks associated with the production of cloth, merchant associations and guilds kept the most prestigious and remunerative aspects of cloth production in the hands of men. Surviving sources privilege production by male heads of household and trade by elite merchants, but this was just the tip of the iceberg relating to the production, trade, and circulation of cloth. How did medieval bourgeois and noble women interact as marketers and consumers, or as imitators and icons of fashion? How did female guilds of cloth producers and female drapers in wool-cloth production interact with spinners and carders who worked for them?
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