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The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth
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The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  359 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
Using objects that Americans have saved through the centuries and stories they have passed along, as well as histories teased from documents, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich chronicles the production of cloth--and of history--in early America. Under the singular and brilliant lens that Ulrich brings to this study, ordinary household goods--Indian baskets, spinning wheels, a chimney ...more
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published October 30th 2001 by Knopf (first published 2001)
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Colleen O'Neill Conlan
Mar 30, 2016 Colleen O'Neill Conlan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I read—and loved—A Midwife's Tale. Like that book, this one delves into women's work and contributions to the economy of the times they lived in. Ulrich does this by taking a dozen or so objects, all having to do with the production of textiles, and examining the history of that particular textile, tool, or implement against the contemporary setting when it was made and used.

For example, the spinning wheel. The author looks at two, one for wool and one for linen and cotton. Handspinning was a m
Lesley Fuller
Feb 09, 2014 Lesley Fuller rated it it was amazing
Ulrich has an immense skill for looking at an object and seeing something far beyond its value as a practical object or collectible. To her, Molly Ocket’s pocketbook does not just tell the tale of ancient twining techniques but “reveals as well the complex history of a people living in the violent borderland between New England and New France” (250). It reflects the combination of cultures, both Abenaki and colonial, and illuminates the story of cultural exchange and conquest. Molly Docket was n ...more
Jul 18, 2013 Sara rated it really liked it
The Age of Homespun displays Laurel Thatcher Ulrich doing the thing she does best: extrapolating entire stories out of seemingly mute objects. By examining the history of a handful of woven objects from colonial and early republic New England, she provides a vivid picture of women's domestic lives during that time and of the influence those lives had on the social and economic well-being of their society as a whole. The research is sound and formidable and the writing engaging.

For a more detail
Margaret Sankey
Apr 04, 2015 Margaret Sankey rated it it was amazing
Ulrich uses pre-industrial cloth production to examine the ways in which traditional English household craft had to change with the transplantation to the New World (particularly frontiers), and how this necessary and constant activity shaped family relations, time management, consumer behavior, fashion, colonial economics and eventually, in collision with industrial looms, collapsed with all kinds of interesting fallout. This is a model of how material culture history undergirds more visible po ...more
Apr 15, 2015 Lynne rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, non-fiction
This book has a lot of good information, but it's very slow going. Ulrich ties the existence of various handmade/homespun objects into regional and national history, but sometimes gets carried away with tangents. I found her explanations of what women could own vs what men could own in colonial times very interesting, but some of her explanations of the laws got to be a bit much. I'm glad I read it, but it's not as good as her midwife book. I did learn a lot about early cloth manufacturing and f ...more
Jan 06, 2016 Meg rated it really liked it
An interesting read that focuses on specific items from early American history and then digs in as deeply as possible - an unfinished stocking, an embroidered hanging, a spinning wheel - what can these items tell us about women and their work, their lives? Thatcher is one of my heroes - a great thinker who helped create the modern study of marginalized groups like native peoples and women, who are not represented equally in texts. By turning to physical artifacts she created a new method of tryi ...more
Sep 15, 2010 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at everyday life in New England (17th-19th centuries) through the lens of textiles. Each chapter is centered on an artifact, such as a spinning wheel, basket, tablecloth, embroidered blanket, and branches out from there to topics such as relations between Indians and whites, exchanging labor between households, cultivating silk, knitted stockings, and many more. A scholarly book but since I'm interested in the topic, easy to read. Lots of information on how textile production ...more
Laura Kilpatrick
Mar 01, 2013 Laura Kilpatrick rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: women crafters interested in history
Recommended to Laura by: facebook page about yarn
I liked this book because it tells more of the history of women through the items that women made and valued. Most history is written though men's eyes and therefore consists of wars and triumphs.

I also liked reading about early american indians and how they were absorbed into society and/or wiped out. I hope that they were absorbed and became our ancestors.

I like to knit and crochet and make my own yarn so I could relate to this book.
Mrs. Riding
Apr 05, 2013 Mrs. Riding rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, own, adult
Using the history of every day objects, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich shares the history of America from revolution, to western expansion, from homemade to factory created. This is the type of history that makes the people we read about come alive, especially as we see the few treasures that we have gathered from our own family history. I think there are a few places and people written about from my own genealogy and look forward to including the research among the notes for my family.
Jan 31, 2013 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This was an absolutely fascinating book. It's a history of objects but also a story about the people who made them, a history of the people who don't usually show up in the history books. It gave me a completely new understanding of the early American economy, as well as a bit of a guilt complex about how much easier my life is compared to my 13th great grandmother's. It's slow, dense reading, but well worth the effort.
Dec 04, 2008 Pamela is currently reading it
Very dense. Some interesting parts so far. She has a desire to write about the objects but I sometimes feel her thesis -- that "homespun" is somewhat of a myth is forced.

I haven't finished reading this book and it is due back at the library. I think I'm going to return it and read something a bit more fun. Will probably return to this book at a later date.
Dec 21, 2009 Bradley rated it really liked it
What Ulrich does for a few objects is remarkable. This is cultural history at its best. A basket (after careful research in dusty archives and historical society vaults) tells a story of war and love and family. I find this approach to history engrossing, however small the scale may seem at first. Ulrich richly weaves her tapestry in deep context. Read this for class; it became a pleasure.
Aug 01, 2008 Carolyn rated it it was ok
This was really hard to get through and disappointing for all the hype it has received. As an Americana nerd I felt betrayed that this didn't speak to me at all. It felt more like a series of essays stuck together as a book, and within that there was a good deal of repetition. If one was particularly interested in textiles this might be more "fun."
Sarah Groesbeck
Oct 06, 2010 Sarah Groesbeck rated it it was amazing
One of the most easily-readable non-fiction books I've read. The author creates a sense of history through the objects she features in each chapter. The last felt a little tacked-on and didn't exactly fit with those preceding it, but that's a minor quibble when considering the overall product.
This one is a DNF for me. A little too dense for me at this time. It really felt like reading an archaeology textbook, and though the subject matter is so dear to my heart, I couldn't make myself read it. I do hope to give it another try.
Oct 15, 2015 katie rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, read-in-2015, uga
This was really good. I tried gutting it as I'm reading it for class, but I kept slowing down and reading word for word because I found it so interesting (especially the explanations of needlework processes and when she gives glimpses of women's diaries).
Aleesha Bass
Jun 27, 2013 Aleesha Bass rated it liked it
The stories about these objects are fascinating, but, to no real fault of the author, it can be a bit dry in some parts. Maybe it didn't help that I had to read 100 pages every day for the class assignment...
Mar 24, 2008 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great history book on the hidden history of women. How they pass objects such as furniture and linens down from mothe to daughter and even though they tell a story the story is often hidden. And that one must dig deeply to find the hidden history, and the women's names that are behind the items.
Interesting but heady coverage of textiles in colonial America and the concept of homespun. Will likely return to it at some point for general interest; however it's a bit too academic for the purposes of my book research now.
Oct 18, 2007 Rebekah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I love her stories and the way she recreates women's lives, even though there isn't a lot in the proper record. I also get very tied to objects, so it was nice to see it all interwoven here. Sometimes she gets a bit liberal in her interpretations, but I appreciate the passion.
Sep 12, 2008 Grace rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
I really loved this book. It takes a bunch of homespun objects/pieces and uses their individual histories to tell a story about the time and place in which they were made. This is exactly the type of history I find compelling, and nobody does it better than Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
Aug 02, 2007 Leslie rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books. Dr. Ulrich combines a history of textiles with an exploration of multiple cultural histories, stretching from the creators of the objects to the nineteenth- and twentieth-century audiences that granted them significance in their own lives and worldview.
Dec 27, 2011 Emily rated it liked it
I would only recommend this for people who are extremely interested in textiles or early American objects. Otherwise it's pretty long and boring, although it does have quite a few interesting threads.
Jul 25, 2016 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Not as good as the Midwife's tale. In this one she tends to go off into tangents that don't feel connected. Still well written.
Jul 04, 2012 Natalya rated it it was amazing
Brilliant!! Ulrich is genius as usual.
Fascinating, and a return-to read when I have more time.
Terry Earley
Jan 21, 2015 Terry Earley rated it it was ok
Ulrich has such a practiced and skillful eye for the history contained in objects. It was an education for me.
Feb 14, 2013 Cayenne is currently reading it
Too dense for me at the moment, but as far as I got it was a fascinating look at early American history and culture.
May 26, 2008 Deena rated it liked it
I'm recusing myself from publicly reviewing anything on early American history. It's a long story.
Katie rated it it was amazing
Apr 09, 2017
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Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University. She is the author of Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Early New England, 1650-1750 (1982) and A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (1990) which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1991 and became the basis of a PBS documentary. In The Age of Homespun ...more
More about Laurel Thatcher Ulrich...

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