Fashioning Colonies and Empires
This panel offers a methodologically-innovative approach to sartorial contests in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Encompassing an ambitious geographical sweep, it discusses how sartorial practices allowed groups and individuals to define and re-define their situations across British, French, Spanish, and Dutch colonial worlds.
Robert S. DuPlessis’s paper, “When Doña Barbara Went to Town: Urban and Rural Dress Practices in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Atlantic World” draws on probate inventories and related documents to investigate female and male settlers’ sartorial practices in four distinctive ports and their hinterlands across the seventeenth and eighteenth century Atlantic. Disaggregating urban and rural consumption, it argues that ecologies of consumer behavior, founded on gender, occupation, economic structure, and commercial networks, both disregarded and reinforced urban-rural dichotomies. Sophie White’s paper, “Stolen Looks: Enslaved African Women Within and Beyond the Atlantic World,” examines the non-verbal cultural expressions of enslaved women in French Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds as voiced in courtroom records. It analyzes references to dress as a means of understanding enslaved women’s relationship to labor, to religion, to family formation and social community, and thereby to illuminate how they conceived of their place in a colonial world. Christian Ayne Crouch’s paper, “Sartorial Performance and Recognition during the Seven Years' War,” investigates a series of incidents where French and British individuals assumed indigenous American dress and role-play during the Seven Years’ War. In re-examining examples of cross-cultural dressing during wartime, she seeks to stretch our understanding of the boundaries and rationales of such moments in mid-eighteenth century North America. Beverly Lemire’s paper, “The Question of Trousers: Mariners and Empire in the Crafting of Democratic Male Dress in Britain, c. 1600-1800,”considers the role of mariners in collective sartorial contests, as well as the influence of tropical imperial settings in recasting norms of male dress. Focusing specifically on the emergence of trousers, her paper considers the ways that the leisure, shore-going clothes of mariners defined a group actively subverting hierarchies of dress, their trousered figures became emblematic of a new manly style.
This panel promises to stimulate a conversation about the importance of non-verbal expressions in writing history (not least in writing the history of the non-literate). In stretching across empires and oceans, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and incorporating North and South America, West, East and South Africa, Asia, and the Mascarene Islands, this session also contributes to ongoing conversations about the challenges of producing comparative scholarship that recognizes the globalizing world of "first-wave" European colonization.