The Age of Homespun
Like the women she writes about, historian and academic Ulrich (a Pulitzer Prize recipient) has herself spun an intricate and wonderful work. Through her examination of textile artifacts, she illuminates the varied lives of those whose handiwork has been preserved by historical societies and collections throughout New England.
Each chapter focuses on a specific object of domestic manufacture during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries: baskets woven by Native American women from various materials, spinning wheels for flax and wool, an elaborately painted wooden cupboard, an embroidered chimneypiece, a pocket-book, a counterpane, linen for adorning table and bed, and more. In her account of an item’s creation and provenance, Ulrich delves into the personal history of the maker, characterizing that individual’s larger community–village, farm, factory town, or forest. Amply illustrated with photographs and maps, the book pulls the reader back to an vital era in which regional and national identity grows and changes. No dry compilation of facts, this book is as readable and entertaining as it is informative. The representative subjects of Ulrich’s scrutiny, men and women alike, are brought to life through their letters, diaries, genealogies, poems, and newspapers.
Whether viewed as early American social history, textile documentation, or gender studies, The Age of Homespun is a remarkable achievement.