Project (2017-2018)

Wefts of Innovation in Premodern China (13th–17th Century)

“Cloths are for all (衣被群生)” declared the Chinese statesman Ouyang Xiu歐陽修(1007–1071) once in a memorandum to the throne. Although Ouyang did not specify, he most likely wore cloth made of silk. Indeed, that generation of Chinese scholars could not have lived without it, at least not comfortably. Taking silk as an example, this project pursues, in three iterations, the question of how the existence of a certain materiality has historically imprinted on approaches to knowledge, affecting understandings of life and the world, and changing or impacting creativity, forms of analysis, and judgements. The focus of the first iteration is silk’s global role. Second, textile technology’s major role in technological innovation in the premodern era is revealed. Inquiring silk as both a material and activity, the project, pursued in cooperation with economic and global historian Giorgio Riello, has revealed the dynamics of technical and socioeconomic change in premodern China. The third iteration on the science of silk in Late Imperial China is planned for 2019

Past Events

The Rhetoric of Innovation: Silk Treatises in Pre-modern China and Europe