Moving to (and Dressing for) the Early Modern City: Short Migrations and Small Problems in Big History

Friday, January 6, 2017: 11:10 AM
Mile High Ballroom 4B (Colorado Convention Center)
Amy B. Stanley, Northwestern University
When historians address migration in the context of global history, they usually think about long distance travel, in which people crossed oceans and continents. But for early modern women in both Europe and East Asia, short- and medium-distance migration was much more common. In fact, the story of the provincial girl who migrated to the city to work in domestic service was common both as a cultural narrative and as an experience across the Eurasian continent. In vastly different cultural contexts, these migrant women worried about the same thing: their clothes, which were usually fashioned from Indian-printed cotton (or knockoffs and import substitutes). This presentation begins with an account of one migrant woman’s struggle to amass a wardrobe in the Japanese capital of Edo (now Tokyo), then expands to connect this small story to the transformation of the early modern economy across the Eurasian continent. It considers how the methodology of microhistory, with its focus on obscure individuals, neglected archives, and everyday life, might yield insights that can be applied to the vast terrain of global history.