The Age of Homespun

Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth

Publisher: Vintage
They began their existence as everyday objects, but in the hands of Bancroft Award-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, fourteen domestic items from preindustrial America–ranging from a linen tablecloth to an unfinished sock–relinquish their stories and offer profound insights into our history.
In an age when even meals are rarely made from scratch, homespun easily acquires the glow of nostalgia. The objects Ulrich investigates unravel those simplified illusions, revealing important clues to the culture and people who made them. Ulrich uses an Indian basket to explore the uneasy coexistence of native and colonial Americans. A piece of silk embroidery reveals racial and class distinctions, and two old spinning wheels illuminate the connections between colonial cloth-making and war. Pulling these divergent threads together, Ulrich demonstrates how early Americans made, used, sold, and saved textiles in order to assert their identities, shape relationships, and create history.


Chapter 1

The basket is four and a half inches high and four inches in diameter, about the size of a large tomato can, though smaller at the top than the bottom. When new it could have held a generous pound of meal or beans or twenty-four fathoms of wampum. Now light leaks through a weft ravaged by time and insects...
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“Eloquent, imaginative. . . . The creativity and vigor that made A Midwife’s Tale an instant classic are also present [here].”--Newsday

“With The Age of Homespun, [Ulrich] has truly outdone herself.”--The New York Times Book Review

"Remarkable . . . [Ulrich] performs like a virtuoso, conjuring up the small details she then weaves into her larger stories. . . . She dazzles." —Chicago Tribune

"Lively and captivating. . . . [Ulrich] quilts a new narrative, one that both probes and explodes the myths surrounding the idealized era of 'homespun.'" —Los Angeles Times