Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times

W. W. Norton & Company
25
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"A fascinating history of…[a craft] that preceded and made possible civilization itself." —New York Times Book Review New discoveries about the textile arts reveal women's unexpectedly influential role in ancient societies.

Twenty thousand years ago, women were making and wearing the first clothing created from spun fibers. In fact, right up to the Industrial Revolution the fiber arts were an enormous economic force, belonging primarily to women.

Despite the great toil required in making cloth and clothing, most books on ancient history and economics have no information on them. Much of this gap results from the extreme perishability of what women produced, but it seems clear that until now descriptions of prehistoric and early historic cultures have omitted virtually half the picture.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber has drawn from data gathered by the most sophisticated new archaeological methods—methods she herself helped to fashion. In a "brilliantly original book" (Katha Pollitt, Washington Post Book World), she argues that women were a powerful economic force in the ancient world, with their own industry: fabric.
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About the author

Elizabeth Wayland Barber is the author of Women’s Work and The Mummies of Ürümchi. Professor emerita of archaeology and linguistics at Occidental College, she lives in California.

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Additional Information

Publisher
W. W. Norton & Company
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Published on
Sep 17, 1995
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780393285581
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Language
English
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Genres
History / World
Social Science / Archaeology
Social Science / Women's Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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In 1177 B.C., marauding groups known only as the "Sea Peoples" invaded Egypt. The pharaoh's army and navy managed to defeat them, but the victory so weakened Egypt that it soon slid into decline, as did most of the surrounding civilizations. After centuries of brilliance, the civilized world of the Bronze Age came to an abrupt and cataclysmic end. Kingdoms fell like dominoes over the course of just a few decades. No more Minoans or Mycenaeans. No more Trojans, Hittites, or Babylonians. The thriving economy and cultures of the late second millennium B.C., which had stretched from Greece to Egypt and Mesopotamia, suddenly ceased to exist, along with writing systems, technology, and monumental architecture. But the Sea Peoples alone could not have caused such widespread breakdown. How did it happen?

In this major new account of the causes of this "First Dark Ages," Eric Cline tells the gripping story of how the end was brought about by multiple interconnected failures, ranging from invasion and revolt to earthquakes, drought, and the cutting of international trade routes. Bringing to life the vibrant multicultural world of these great civilizations, he draws a sweeping panorama of the empires and globalized peoples of the Late Bronze Age and shows that it was their very interdependence that hastened their dramatic collapse and ushered in a dark age that lasted centuries.

A compelling combination of narrative and the latest scholarship, 1177 B.C. sheds new light on the complex ties that gave rise to, and ultimately destroyed, the flourishing civilizations of the Late Bronze Age—and that set the stage for the emergence of classical Greece.

Why were Prometheus and Loki envisioned as chained to rocks? What was the Golden Calf? Why are mirrors believed to carry bad luck? How could anyone think that mortals like Perseus, Beowulf, and St. George actually fought dragons, since dragons don't exist? Strange though they sound, however, these "myths" did not begin as fiction.

This absorbing book shows that myths originally transmitted real information about real events and observations, preserving the information sometimes for millennia within nonliterate societies. Geologists' interpretations of how a volcanic cataclysm long ago created Oregon's Crater Lake, for example, is echoed point for point in the local myth of its origin. The Klamath tribe saw it happen and passed down the story--for nearly 8,000 years.


We, however, have been literate so long that we've forgotten how myths encode reality. Recent studies of how our brains work, applied to a wide range of data from the Pacific Northwest to ancient Egypt to modern stories reported in newspapers, have helped the Barbers deduce the characteristic principles by which such tales both develop and degrade through time. Myth is in fact a quite reasonable way to convey important messages orally over many generations--although reasoning back to the original events is possible only under rather specific conditions.


Our oldest written records date to 5,200 years ago, but we have been speaking and mythmaking for perhaps 100,000. This groundbreaking book points the way to restoring some of that lost history and teaching us about human storytelling.

Kinky boots, corsets, underwear as outerwear, second-skin garments of rubber and leather, uniforms, body piercing.... Today everything from a fetishist's dream appears on the fashion runways. Although some people regard fetish fashion as exploitative and misogynistic, others interpret it as a positive Amazonian statement--couture Catwoman. But the connection between fashion and fetishism goes far beyond a few couture collections. For the past thirty years, the iconography of sexual fetishism has been increasingly assimilated into popular culture. Before Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, there was Mrs. Peel, heroine of the 1960s television show "The Avengers," who wore a black leather catsuit modeled on a real fetish costume. Street styles like punk and the gay "leatherman" look also testify to the influence of fetishism. The concept of fetishism has recently assumed a growing importance in critical thinking about the cultural construction of sexuality. Yet until now no scholar with an in-depth knowledge of fashion history has studied the actual clothing fetishes themselves. Nor has there been a serious exploration of the historical relationship between fashion and fetishism, although erotic styles have changed significantly and "sexual chic" has become increasingly conspicuous. Cultural historian Valerie Steele has devoted much of her career to the study of the relationship between clothing and sexuality, and is uniquely qualified to write this book. Marshalling a dazzling array of evidence from pornography, psychology, and history, as well as interviews with individuals involved in sexual fetishism, sadomasochism, and cross-dressing, Steele illuminates the complex relationship between appearance and identity. Based on years of research, her book Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power explains how a paradigm shift in attitudes toward sex and gender has given rise to the phenomenon of fetish fashion. "Steele is to fetish dressing what Anne Rice is to vampires," writes Christa Worthington of Elle magazine, "the intellectual interpreter of...wishes beyond our ken." According to Steele, fetishism shows how human sexuality is never just a matter of doing what comes naturally; fantasy always plays an important role. Steele provides provocative answers to such questions as: Why is black regarded as the sexiest color? Is fetishizing the norm for males? Does fetish fashion reflect a fear of AIDS? And why do so many people love shoes?
There has been a great deal of recent interest in masculine clothing, examining both its production and consumption, and the ways in which it was used to create individual identities and to build businesses, from 1850 onwards. Drawing upon a wide range of sources this book studies the interaction between producers and consumers at a key period in the development of the ready-made clothing industry. It also shows that many innovations in advertising clothing, usually considered to have been developed in America, had earlier British precedents. To counter the lack of documentary evidence that has hitherto hampered research into the dress practices of non-elite groups, this book utilises thousands of unpublished visual documents. These include hundreds of manufacturers' designs, which underline an unexpected degree of investment by manufacturers in boys' clothing, and which was matched by heavy investment in advertising, with thousands of images of boys' clothing for shop catalogues in the Stationers' Hall copyright archive. Another key source is the archives of Dr Barnardo's Homes. This extraordinary collection contains over 15,000 documented photographs of boys entering between 1875 and 1900, allowing us to look beyond official polarization of 'raggedness' and 'respectability' used by charities and social reformers of all stripes and to establish the clothing that was actually worn by a large sample of boys. A close analysis of 1,800 images reveals that even when families were impoverished, they strove to present their boys in ways that reflected their position in the family group and in society. By drawing on these visual sources, and linking the design and retailing of boys' clothing with social, cultural and economic issues, this book shows that an understanding of the production and consumption of the boys clothing is central to debates on the growth of the consumer society, the development of mass-market fashion, and concepts of childhood and masculinity.
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