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Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years…
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Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in… (urspr publ 1994; utgåvan 1995)

av Elizabeth Wayland Barber

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygDiskussioner / Omnämnanden
9222317,147 (4.44)1 / 40
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.… (mer)
Medlem:trenchwork
Titel:Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times
Författare:Elizabeth Wayland Barber
Info:W.W. Norton & Co. (1995), Paperback, 336 pages
Samlingar:History, Nonfiction, Ditt bibliotek
Betyg:
Taggar:fiber history, gender, cultural history

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Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times av Elizabeth Wayland Barber (1994)

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This is basically the Guns, Germs, and Steel of textiles, fabrics, and the women who weave with them. My entry point in this book was Gregory Clark's excellent Big History book A Farewell to Alms, where he discussed how in large part the first phase of the Industrial Revolution was almost entirely driven by productivity improvements in the textile industry. Weaving being then as now a primarily female-dominated industry, I was interested to learn more about the sociological effects of that revolution, and though this book wasn't what I was expecting at all, covering "only" from the Paleolithic to the Iron Age, there's still lots that should be right up the alley of anyone looking for something in the intersection of archaeology, textiles, and the feminization of labor.

There are probably many different economic rationales for why some professions have been considered "women's work" for tens of thousands of years, but the most basic one is pretty straightforward: if some relatively simple task is compatible with having to take care of children, it will probably be women who are doing it. Barber quotes a researcher who lists the following characteristic of such jobs: "they do not require rapt concentration and are relatively dull and repetitive; they are easily interruptible [I see a rueful smile on every care giver's face!] and easily resumed once interrupted; they do not place the child in potential danger; and they do not require the participant to range very far from home." There's a lot to ponder in that description. It's interesting that even in the 21st century it seems like knitting is still almost exclusively a female hobby, even when the woman in question doesn't have kids. Barber doesn't go into why that is, but she does discuss the question of why, given that women dominated the ranks of knitters, most labor-saving technology like the spinning jenny was invented by men. Barber's explanation is that women were so busy trying to keep up with demand that didn't have the time to sit around and play with technology. That sounds plausible, although it seems like even in ancient times enough clothing was being made for luxury use that at least one woman would have the time to think "There's got to be a better way."

Regardless of how weaving came to be considered women's work, it's obvious that most of the women who did the work took pride in it and developed traditions around it. Barber discusses how the basic style of string skirt that survives today in Eastern European peasant garb has been almost unchanged for nearly 20,000 years, which is pretty mindblowing. Fascinatingly, it appears that certain more advanced weaving concepts like the heddle were so conceptually difficult that they were only actually invented once - thus allowing archaeologists to roughly date when various tribes split off from each other by whether they possessed the advanced concepts or not. In between defining important terms like carding, twill, or worsted, Barber follows weavers from the earliest records of the Paleolithic through the Neolithic and the agricultural revolution, to Bronze Age societies like the Minoans, Middle Kingdom Egyptians, and Myceneans, and finally to the Iron Age and classical Greek civilization. There's lots of good discussion behind things like the storytelling-through-fabric tradition that includes the famous Bayeux Tapestry, or why different types of looms were adopted in some places but not others, or how class structure did or did not affect weaving (a surprising number of powerful queens wove just like commoners, albeit with higher-quality fabrics), leavened with citations from all over the place, such as the Odyssey, Greek mythology, and peasant folklore like the stories in Grimm's.

I was disappointed that she ended two thousand years before the vast changes of the Industrial Revolution (even aside from the economic impact of the women in the textile industry then, surely the cultural impact of tricoteuses such as Madame Defarge in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities would have been worth a mention), and even today, women in the garment trade are a vital part of the development of countries like Bangladesh. Probably the additional scope would have resulted in a book several times the size, but even with its limits, this is a very well-researched and interesting look at the history of weaving and its role in the world from a primarily female perspective. Barber is funny too; here's her relating a story from Xenophon about Socrates' friend Aristarchos buying a bunch of wool to keep his female houseguests busy:

"As a result, resources were found, and wool was bought. The women ate their noon meal while they worked, and quit working only at suppertime; and they were cheerful instead of gloomy. Presently Aristarchos returned to tell Socrates how splendidly everything was working out. But, he adds, the ladies are displeased at one thing - namely, that he himself is idle. The story ends with Socrates suggesting that Aristarchos tell them that he is like the apparently idle sheepdog, who gets better treatment than the sheep because his protection is what allows them all to prosper.
We do not hear how that fable went over with the women, but we know how it would be received today." ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
The author has done a fabulous job of making her subject interesting (I had to keep reminding myself that I really don't need a new hobby). The title was a little misleading: it's more about the creation of cloth, and the basics of clothing people with women, their other work, and how they interact with society secondary. I'm more interested in the latter than the former; the author did a good job of making me forget that when I was reading.

This was less about sewing, embroidery, etc, and more about spinning and weaving, with regular side trips in the materials used and how to prepare them to create thread and rope.

A book to keep in mind when discussing, or looking into, how women fit into society. I highly recommend it. ( )
  crankybookwyrm | May 6, 2021 |
Barber's book focuses on the history of spinning and weaving in ancient civilizations. Most of what we know came through archaeological discoveries. While some consider this book scholarly, its lack of citation footnotes or end notes limits its usefulness in academia. Most footnotes used are explanatory in nature. The author provides notes on her sources by chapter, but facts lack individual citation. Some of the source comments do describe how she used the work in her narrative. Extensive illustrations are used, but in the paperback edition, all appear in black and white. It is unknown if the hardcover edition makes use of needed color illustrations of some of the discovered textiles. I expected the book to be a little broader in scope than it was, but it seemed to focus mainly on spinning and weaving. Those who adhere to "young earth" theories will question the dating of materials as they do with most works focusing on this era. ( )
  thornton37814 | May 1, 2021 |
A non-fiction book that I read from cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed. I'd like to read her other book but its not at the library. Might want to add this to my collection of books in the future. ( )
  pnwbookgirl | Feb 7, 2016 |
used $5 US

A scholarly study of women and textile and socioarcheological history.- from the Stone Age through to early Iron Age in Eurasia. Fascinating information about all sorts of wonderful things.

The nature of women's work, what textiles tell us about women's social roles in different ages and societies, the development and spread of various techniques and materials and what that spread can tell us about the movement and status of different peoples in the ancient world.

For anyone interested in the history of spinning, weaving and women's history.
  kgreply | Oct 16, 2014 |
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Introduction:

"Four, three, two, one--good. One more bunch to go; then we've got to get dinner on."

Chapter 1:
For millennia women have sat together spinning,weaving, and sewing.
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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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