Women's Work: The First 20, 000 Years - Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times

Women's Work: The First 20, 000 Years - Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times


By (author) Elizabeth W. Barber

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  • Publisher: WW Norton & Co
  • Format: Paperback | 336 pages
  • Dimensions: 140mm x 206mm x 23mm | 272g
  • Publication date: 17 January 1996
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0393313484
  • ISBN 13: 9780393313482
  • Edition: New edition
  • Edition statement: New edition
  • Illustrations note: photographs, drawings
  • Sales rank: 54,058

Product description

2500 years ago, the women of Athens slaved at home, virtual prisoners of their husbands, expected to provide the cloth and clothing for their family. 4000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia, there was a very different picture: respectable women were in business, weaving textiles at home to be sold abroad for gold and silver. Going back even further, 20,000 years ago women began making and wearing the first clothing created from spun fibres. Indeed, for over 20,000 years, until the Industrial Revolution, the arts of weaving belonged primarily to women and were the principal vehicle for demonstrating their various roles as mother, provider, worker, entrepreneur and artist.

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Editorial reviews

Employing diverse, thorough methodologies and research sources, the author of Prehistoric Textiles (not reviewed) traces the roles of women and cloth through 20,000 years of history. Prehistoric women primarily worked with food and clothing, neither likely to survive the elements, and male historians traditionally felt little need or desire to write about cloth and textiles; thus, much of women's work history has been lost, and we are left with few details for reconstruction. However, Barber's innovative research found that "data for ancient textiles lay everywhere, waiting to be picked up." By reproducing remnants of ancient cloth and garments, she also reproduced women's actual labor, which often required hours upon hours of tedious, painstaking work. Her justification for the assumption of female responsibility for cloth rests on their childbearing and -rearing duties. Women needed to stay close to home, and they required work compatible with youngsters running around - labor that could be interrupted when necessary. According to Barber, women held important positions in society as the primary producers of clothing for millennia, even into the age of emerging capitalist economies. She also deduces, from the patterns and designs of ancient material, that clothing for both sexes served as a visual means to communicate such information as fertility and marital status. (For example, many skirt remnants hold designs assumed to follow the shape of and emphasize the pubic bone.) Although this seems a logical conclusion, there's not really any empirical evidence for it. An important contribution, in terms of both historical material and interpretation, to the study of women's work. (Kirkus Reviews)