Fabrics and Fashions in American Literature
This section of the Junior Research Seminar will focus on the production of textiles, which were America’s leading industry throughout the late 1700s and early 1800s. Beginning with selections from the Lowell Offering (1840-1845), an anthology compiled by girls working in Massachusetts mills, and ending with Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping (1980), the course will consider how habits of labor—and the making of fabrics in particular—have changed across time. The course will begin in the nineteenth century at the start of America’s industrial revolution when the U.S. witnessed a shift from handmade methods of production to machine labor. We will inquire: how did peoples’ relationships with clothing and other fabrics change throughout the period? What kinds of affective as well as economic ties were established between people and their things? Throughout the course, we will address how one’s work intersects with various vectors of social identity: class, race, gender, and disability.
The Junior Research Seminar is designed to involve students in the kinds of research that the discipline of literary studies currently demands, including: working with primary sources and archival materials; reviewing the critical literature; using online databases of historical newspapers, periodicals, and other cultural materials; exploring relevant contexts in literary, linguistic, and cultural history; studying the etymological history and changing meanings of words; experimenting with new methods of computational analysis of texts; and other methodologies. The course typically involves a few main texts that are studied intensively from a variety of approaches. Research exercises throughout the semester will enable and culminate in a final project: either a scholarly essay of 10-15 pages or a creative project. In either case, the final project must emerge out of each student's intensive, independent research agenda.