Silk has long been a global commodity that, because of its exceptional qualities, high value and relative portability, came to be traded over very long distances. Similarly, the silk industry—from sericulture to the weaving of cloth—was one of the most important fields of production in the medieval and early modern world. The production and consumption of silks spread from China to Japan and Korea and traveled westward as far as India, Persia, and the Byzantine Empire, Europe, Africa and the Americas. As contributors to this book demonstrate, in this process of diffusion silk fostered technological innovation and allowed new forms of organization of labor to emerge. Its consumption constantly reshaped social hierarchies, gender roles, aesthetic, and visual cultures, as well as rituals and representations of power.
Threads of Global Desire is the first attempt at considering a global history of silk in the pre-modern era. The book examines the role of silk production and use in various cultures and its relation to everyday and regulatory practices. It considers silk as a major force of cross cultural interaction through technological exchange and trade in finished and semi-finished goods. Silks mediated design and a taste for luxuries and were part of gifting practices in diplomatic and private contexts. Silk manufacturing also fostered the circulation of skilled craftsmen, connecting different centers and regions across continents and linking the countryside to urban production.