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.
Danielle Skeehan is Associate Professor of English and Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College. Her work has appeared in The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, The Appendix, The Journal of the Early Republic, Commonplace, and Early American Studies. She is a former PEAES postdoctoral fellow, and her first book, The Fabric of Empire: Material and Literary Cultures of the Global Atlantic, 1650–1850, was recently published by Johns Hopkins University Press in the series “Studies in Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia,” edited by Cathy Matson.
This chat originally aired at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, February 4, 2021.
Talking in the Library will serve as an audio platform for researchers to share the incredible work they’re pursuing using the rich collections at the Library Company of Philadelphia.
Talking in the Library is hosted by Will Fenton, the Director of Scholarly Innovation, and produced by Ann McShane, the Project Digital Asset Librarian at Emory University.
Logo design by Nicole Graham. Theme music by Krestovsky (“Terrible Art”).