Pasold Research Fund Conference 2012 - Report

Pasold Research Fund Conference 2012 - Report
The Pasold Research Fund Conference 2012 dedicated itself to ‘Innovation before the
Modern: Cloth and Clothing in the Early Modern World.’ The very title poses a challenge to a
traditional narrative that considers real innovation an outcome only of the Industrial
Revolution, impossible in an era characterised by mercantilist ideologies, guild structures,
and relatively low levels of mechanisation. Yet in focussing on innovation the contributions
to the conference covered the roles of legislation, guilds, and mechanisation as well as of
design, fashion, gender, politics, and the role of the state, placing innovation in textiles
squarely within the early modern period.
The organisation and venue gave the conference its special flavour: organised by Klas
Nyberg from the University of Uppsala and Peter McNeil from the University of Stockholm
and set within the magnificent surroundings of the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm, there
was a distinctly Scandinavian feel to the proceedings, with many of the papers
concentrating on this region which is so often neglected in the histories of early modern
fashion and textile production. This was underscored by the conference reception being
held at K. A. Almgren’s Silk Mill Museum, which included a guided tour of the former mill
and a demonstration of one of its historic looms. When all participants were presented with
conference packs made out of beautifully reproduced historic printed cottons, everything
was set for three days of total textile immersion.
A stimulating framework for the conference was provided by three keynote
addresses which explored different aspects of the link between cloth and early modern
innovation. Amanda Wunder (Lehman College and the Graduate Center, City University of
New York) in her opening lecture ‘The Spanish Style: Innovation and Tradition at the Court
of Philip IV (1621-1665) reflected on the politics of innovation in dress, outlining how
fashion innovation could be a tool in strengthening kingship at a time of crisis, when dress
reform could become the visible signifier of political reform. Strictly gendered innovations in
dress, such as the banning of ruffs and the imposition of the golilla collar for men and the
permission for female royalty to continue to wear the panniered guardainfante despite its
official prohibition, allowed for the simultaneous projection of masculine austerity and
female fertility, underscoring both the power, virtue, and assured succession of the Spanish
Evelyn Welch (Queen Mary, University of London) continued the exploration of the
meanings and symbolism of fashion innovation. Outlining the scope of the HERA project
“Fashioning the Early Modern: Creativity and Innovation in Europe, 1500-1800″, she
particularly stressed the importance of the connection between tradition and innovation –
an important theme of this conference – since unlike a new machine, labour change
required little capital and therefore provided much more flexibility when attempting
innovation. Her paper, ‘Looking at men’s legs in early modern Europe’, combined a healthy
dose voyeurism with a rigorous analysis of the enormous social, cultural, and political
significance of the wearing of stockings and hoses from the fifteenth century onwards,
whilst not neglecting the wonderfully down-to-earth practical problems that for instance
the need to hold up such stockings could pose.
The third and final keynote was a much-needed reflection on the economic theory of
innovation. In his lecture ‘From Smithian to Ricardian Growth: The Textile industry in
Change and Innovation 1750-1850’ Lars Magnusson of Uppsala University questioned the
narrative of the Industrial Revolution as the transcendence of a Smithian model of growth,
in which labour savings through coal and mechanisation replaced those based simply on the
division of labour. Whilst insisting that an Industrial Revolution did take place in different
regions in different periods across Europe which was characterised by mechanisation,
innovation, and increases in both productivity and division of labour, Magnusson stressed
the importance of continuity, especially of a Smithian type of economic growth relying on
proto industrialisation and an industrious revolution. Whilst the pre-industrial period had
already seen dramatic changes in which marketing and innovation played a crucial role, the
industrial period itself also presented a continuum of old and new in which machines and
traditional forms of labour coexisted and in which many factories continued not to rely on
steam power.
Since quite a few of the papers did not opt for a wider historiographical or indeed
more theoretical approach which would have put case-studies of innovation and clothing
into context of wider reflections on technology, craftsmanship, industrialisation, economic
growth, and product versus process innovation, or indeed the ‘Great Divergence’,
Magnusson’s address provided a welcome counterbalance.
Together the keynote lectures thus provided a good framework for the numerous
explorations of many of their themes in the individual papers. In a first parallel session for
instance, which forced participants to chose between ‘Self-Fashioning’ and ‘Innovations and
Guilds’, the latter provided succour to the revisionist view of guilds as much more flexible
than made out by their liberalist opponents. Papers by Cecilia Candréus of Uppsala
University and William Farrel from Birbeck, University of London, illustrated how the
Stockholm Embroiderers’ Guild’s protection could be extended to women, and that whilst
the eighteenth-century London Weavers’ Company successfully cooperated with Customs
and Excise to prevent the export of tools, it did not oppose itself to the migration of skilled
workers as such.
Another session, Technology and Innovation, brilliantly illustrated the importance of
the international dimension in particular when it came to markets and to knowledge
transfer, both of technological know-how and of fashion trends in the cases of the Swedish
silk industry (Martin Ciszuk, University of Borås, Sweden: ‘Swedish Eighteenth-Century Silk
Weaving – Technology and Design’) and of the Scottish linen industry (Vanessa Habib,
Edinburgh: ‘Bleaching and Weaving in the Age of the Scottish Enlightenment’).
Gender formed another recurring theme in many of the papers and a session
entirely devoted to it was remarkable for its wide geographical spread, discussing female
textile ownership and consumption in Finland (Seija Johnson, University of Jyväskylä), Spain
(Nadia Fernández-de-Pinedo, Autonomous University of Madrid), France (Gillian Crosby,
Nottingham Trent University), as well as Italy (Francesco Vianello, University of Padua).
Such diversity was also in evidence in subsequent panels, such as that on Innovation,
Technology and Mechanisation which went from colour trends in sixteenth-century Venice
(Tracy Griffiths, University of Melbourne), via the development of hand-knitting technology
in early modern Britain (Ruth Gilbert, Marsden), right back to the Middle Ages and the
impact of the foot-powered loom (Laurel Ann Wilson, Fordham University). With the Middle
Ages as the point furthest in time, the parallel session, Between Old and New, reached New
Zealand as the point furthest in space (Patricia Te Arapo Wallace, University of Canterbury,
New Zealand, ‘The Rise and Demise of the Kahu Kuri – the Inidgenous Maori Dog-Skin
The most difficult choice perhaps was between the final two panels both of which
focussed on themes that ran through most of the conference contributions: the role of
markets and the state on the one hand, and the global dimension of textiles and fashion on
the other. The latter saw a particular dense concentration of expertise, which at the same
time gave an insight into current large research projects. Together with Ben Marsh’s
(University of Stirling) paper on Silkworm culture in the North American Colonies, both
Beverly Lemire (University of Alberta, ‘English Mariners, Pleibaian Consumberism and New
Worlds of Fashion in an Era of Global Trade, c. 1600-1800’), Hanna Hodacs (University of
Warwick, ‘Colours in Abundance and Bundles: The Sale of Chinese Silk Textiles at the
Scandinavian East India Company’s Auctions’) and John Styles (University of Hertfordshire,
‘What was Cotton Cloth in Early-Modern Europe?’) gave papers based on their work within
wider research projects, namely Style’s European-Research-Council-funded project
‘Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel’, Beverly Lemire’s project ‘Fashioning the British
Atlantic World: Fashion Actors, Innovators and Networks in an Era of Global Trade, c. 16001800’, funded by the Social Science & Humanities Research Council of Canada, and Hanna
Hodacs’ part in the equally European-Research-Council-funded ‘Europe’s Asian Centuries:
Trading Eurasia 1600-1830’ led by Maxine Berg. Thus the conference not only went out with
a bang, it also clearly showed the pathways of new research in textile history, which will in
themselves hopefully provide much innovation within the historiography of cloth and
clothing in the early modern world.