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The Fabric of Empire

Material and Literary Cultures of the Global Atlantic, 1650-1850

Danielle C. Skeehan

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Revealing the entangled lives of texts and textiles in the early modern Atlantic world.

"Textiles are the books that the colony was not able to burn."—Asociación Femenina para el Desarrollo de Sacatepéquez (AFEDES)

A history of the book in the Americas, across deep time, would reveal the origins of a literary tradition woven rather than written. It is in what Danielle Skeehan calls material texts that a people's history and culture is preserved, in their embroidery, their needlework, and their woven cloth. In defining textiles as a form of cultural writing, The Fabric of Empire challenges long…

Revealing the entangled lives of texts and textiles in the early modern Atlantic world.

"Textiles are the books that the colony was not able to burn."—Asociación Femenina para el Desarrollo de Sacatepéquez (AFEDES)

A history of the book in the Americas, across deep time, would reveal the origins of a literary tradition woven rather than written. It is in what Danielle Skeehan calls material texts that a people's history and culture is preserved, in their embroidery, their needlework, and their woven cloth. In defining textiles as a form of cultural writing, The Fabric of Empire challenges long-held ideas about authorship, textuality, and the making of books.

It is impossible to separate text from textiles in the early modern Atlantic: novels, newspapers, broadsides, and pamphlets were printed on paper made from household rags. Yet the untethering of text from textile served a colonial agenda to define authorship as reflected in ink and paper and the pen as an instrument wielded by learned men and women. Skeehan explains that the colonial definition of the book, and what constituted writing and authorship, left colonial regimes blind to nonalphabetic forms of media that preserved cultural knowledge, history, and lived experience. This book shifts how we look at cultural objects such as books and fabric and provides a material and literary history of resistance among the globally dispossessed.

Each chapter examines the manufacture and global circulation of a particular type of cloth alongside the complex print networks that ensured the circulation of these textiles, promoted their production, petitioned for or served to curtail the rights of textile workers, facilitated the exchange of textiles for human lives, and were, in turn, printed and written on surfaces manufactured from broken-down linen and cotton fibers. Bringing together methods and materials traditionally belonging to literary studies, book history, and material culture studies, The Fabric of Empire provides a new model for thinking about the different media, languages, literacies, and textualities in the early Atlantic world.

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The Fabric of Empire

Danielle C. Skeehan

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Reviews

Reviews

An innovative and important study of textiles as texts. Skeehan's genealogy of objects interconnects fabric and print, taking readers on a world tour to reveal how the physical object of fabric became a locus of ideas and emerging changes in world culture and politics. I would give the author the highest praise I can give to an interdisciplinary scholar: I could not tell what her home discipline was.

This riveting study illuminates the bonds between text and textiles in the age of empire. As Skeehan argues for the centrality of fabric and its makers to the story of global modernity, she dismantles colonial legacies in early American studies by unsettling the eminence of book knowledge in favor of an expansive understanding of authorship and intellectual production.

The Fabric of Empire makes a vital intervention in the study of print culture. Skeehan's brilliant insights into eighteenth-century global textile networks reveal the central role of free and unfree laboring women in the process of modern subject formation. A timely intellectual and literary history that acknowledges its own indebtedness to modern indigenous decolonization and repatriation movements.

A brilliant and field-changing book. Reading textiles as multifaceted texts, Skeehan reveals new networks of meaning-making in the early Atlantic world and foregrounds the role of enslaved people, Indigenous Americans, and non-elite laborers in these networks. Her magisterial engagement with the material archive of empire yields startling new insight into the politics, aesthetics, and culture of the imperial Atlantic world.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Series Editor's Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction. The Material (Con)Texts of Global Modernity
Part 1. The Empire's New Clothes: British Publics and Imperial Politics, 1650–1720
C

List of Illustrations
Series Editor's Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction. The Material (Con)Texts of Global Modernity
Part 1. The Empire's New Clothes: British Publics and Imperial Politics, 1650–1720
Chapter 1. Patterns for Plantation: New World Silk and the Natural History of Settler
Colonialism
Chapter 2. Indo-Atlantic Modernity: The Early Global Cotton Trade and the Emergence of Racial Capitalism
Part 2. Revolutionary Threads: New World Publics and Insurgent Economies, 1750–1800
Chapter 3. The Republic of Homespun: Material Economies of the American
Revolution
Chapter 4. Materializing the Black Atlantic: African Captives, Caribbean Slaves,
and Creole Fashioning
Part 3. The Fabric of American Empire: Imagined Communities and New Geographies, 1600–1865
Chapter 5. Oriental America: Silk Geographies in the Era of the Early Republic
Chapter 6. Empires in Rags: Hemispheric American Material and Literary Texts
Conclusion. Weaving Revolution in the Global South
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
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Danielle C. Skeehan

Danielle C. Skeehan is an assistant professor of English and comparative American studies at Oberlin College.