Week 6: Textiles

Sept. 28- Oct. 4

Assignments: please make sure you have completed last week’s assignments

Table of Contents


Textiles are “stuff”, so much so that in Dutch (my native tongue), the words for “stuff, material” and “fabric” are the same word “stof”. It’s all around us (literally, at least most of the time), and often we don’t even think about it.

This week, I’d like you to stop and think about the clothes you wear on a daily basis, and maybe the clothes you have for special occasions, so that you can think more deeply about the role textiles played in traditional China. Our main focus remains with Tang China, but we will also take a look at fabrics and clothes from other periods.


Basic set:

  • Slides (Gdrive link)
    • Please look through the slide deck, there are a lot of videos that help you think about the physical aspect of creating fabric/textiles.
  • Sheng, Angela. “Determining the Value of Textiles in the Tang Dynasty: In Memory of Professor Denis Twitchett (1925-2006)”. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, 23, no. 2 (2013): 175-95. (PDF via Trexler library)
    • Note that this is from a special issue in this journal series, with the title Textiles as Money on the Silk Roads. If you are interested in textiles, money or the “Silk Roads” (i.e. Eurasian trade networks, there is a wealth of other scholarship waiting for you there.
    • Questions to consider:
    • What precisely do you learn about textiles?
    • What knowledge do you lack, or what technical terms did you have to look up, to understand the article? You can ask in the Cloud Lounge!
    • How could silk function as money? What implications does that have for the study of textiles?
  • Xue, Meng Melanie. Cotton Textile Production in Medieval China Unravelled the Patriarchy, Aeon, June 27, 2018. https://aeon.co/ideas/cotton-textile-production-in-medieval-china-unravelled-patriarchy
    • How can we use the history of a commodity, or an object, to draw out the hidden history of many other aspects of a society?

Up close and personal

This week, instead of different options, I’d like you to take a look through your wardrobe. Pick a couple different items from your wardrobe, e.g. a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, a dress shirt or blouse, a pair of socks, [I don’t know what you have?]

Then observe closely and try to describe them. Don’t think about fashion, but about the following material aspects:

  • fiber (cotton? synthetic?, wool?,…)
  • fabric (knit? crochet? woven? what kind of weave?)
  • construction (sewn? glued? seamless?)
  • techniques used
  • style (you know more than I do!)
  • where was it made? do you know who made it? where did you get it? do you remember buying it/receiving the item/making it?

As you work through these questions: what are you now thinking about clothes and textiles that you did not really think about before? Is your new knowledge about textiles from premodern China making you look differently at clothes? Why (not)?

If you are a fiber artist (knitting, spinning, sewing, crochet, embroidery,…), it would be interesting to learn if you look at clothes a bit differently than people around you (I know I do!)


All times are “Muhlenberg” time (Eastern Daylight time)

Feedback on the reflections about the Tang period

2 points, due by Tuesday Sept. 29, 11.59PM.

You know the drill 🙂 Read more and become a better reader and writer, as you learn from others’ insights and feedback. Here are two students’ Reflection posts on the Tang period China

  • post 1:
  • post 2:
  • Comment using Hypothes.is group HST137
  • Content: draw the writer’s attention to something they missed, or point out how they highlight something you weren’t aware of
  • Style: do you have tips how the writer can make their reflection pack a tighter punch? Does the writer have great sentences or choice of words? What would you like to emulate? Share it!
    • Note: Spelling and phrasing are not the most important, but if you notice a pattern, it is helpful to point it out.

When you’re ready, head over to Canvas and fill out the Declaration Quiz to claim your points.

– I commented on two fellow students’ end of week reflections on readings about the material culture of Tang China, using the Hypothes.is group HST137.
– I made sure to leave substantial comments that help the writer to improve the post, or to identify their strengths.
– I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

Initial post on textiles

3 points, due by Tuesday Sept. 29, 11:59PM, but start reading earlier so you have time to digest.

Work through the slides and texts in the basic set, and spend some time with a couple of items from your wardrobe. If possible include pictures that show us how the items were constructed or how the fabric was made. (A picture is worth a thousand words, after all!)

Use the guiding questions as starting points, but you can also begin from your own observations of what is strange, remarkable, or interesting.

This post is your “opening salvo” in a discussion of these course materials.
This is also the place where you can ask questions about things you don’t understand: perhaps there are contradictions in or between the texts you read, or you can’t make head or tail of something?

  • Include the bibliographic references for the materials you choose, so we know which ones you picked.
    • Top tip: copy-paste from the list, they are (hopefully) correctly formatted in bibliography format for Chicago Notes and Bibliography style.
  • Add an image that illustrates the topic of your post, ideally an image of the textiles (or your clothes) you talk about, with a caption and credit for the image (e.g. a hyperlink to the source).
  • Include the word textile in the title of the post
  • Add it to the category hst137 on your blog.

When you’re done, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

– I wrote a post of about 200 words in response to the readings about textiles.
– I included the bibliographic references for the materials I used for my post.
– I included an image, and provided a caption and credit (source) for the image.
– I use the word textile in the title, added the post to category hst137

Discussion and comments in Hypothes.is

2 points, due Thursday Oct. 1, by 11.59pm.

I hope we get more than just pairs of jeans, but even then, it would be interesting to see how everybody looks at their jeans!

Below you find links to four blog posts from your fellow students. If one of the websites is your own, or it is twice the same person’s, refresh the page, and you should get new sites.

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2:
  • Post 3:
  • Post 4:

Leave feedback, questions, thoughts, insights about the contents of the posts of your fellow students, using Hypothes.is group HST137. You can ask for clarifications, point out similarities and differences with the material you covered, or with your interpretation. This should encourage you to nose around a bit deeper in the materials you maybe gave less attention in the first round.

Use the “Architect’s Model” of giving feedback, and engage with concrete issues. Go beyond “Yeah, I agree,” “I like” or “I think the same”, and instead explain why you have that reaction, or if you disagree, you can try to persuade the original poster of your idea or interpretation.

Remember that Hypothes.is allows for hyperlinks, e.g. to materials that support your argument, or you can include pictures (memes! [yes, there she is again]), videos etc. that help the original poster to learn more.

When you’ve commented on four posts, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

– I commented on four fellow students’ initial posts on the readings about textiles, using Hypothes.is group HST137.
– I made sure to leave substantial comments that move the discussion forward and help to create better insights, and go beyond a “nice” or “great”.
– I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

End of week reflection

3 points, due on Sunday, Oct. 4 by 11:59pm.

If you really engaged with the topic of the textiles this week, your insights have changed: you know more about how textiles were created, used and what they meant, and you probably look a little bit differently at textiles in your own environment.

As always, in your post you will also include three bullet points “Things I learned this week” — what do you know now about textiles that did not know at the start of this week?

  • Write a blog post of appr. 200 words (more is fine if you have Ideas), include the bibliographic details of the texts you refer to or engage with.
    • How have your ideas changed?
    • How do you now think about silk, production of textiles, its consumption, …. ?
    • What new research questions can you ask, that you never thought about before?
  • Add your three bullet points with “Things I learned this week”.
  • Use the word Reflection in the title, and use the tag week6, and add to category hst137.

When you’re ready, head on over to Canvas and fill out the Declaration Quiz

– I wrote a blog post of appr. 200 words to demonstrate my changed/enhanced understanding of textiles.
– I included a list with the bibliographic references of the texts I used to create my post.
– I added three bullet points under the heading “Three things I learned this week”.
– I use the word Reflection in the title, used the tag week6, and added the post to category hst137 .

Extra Credit

1. Extra commenting

Due by Sunday, Oct. 4, 11.59pm; 2 points for 4 additional blogs

Do you like reading your colleagues’ work? Do you like helping them out by identifying ways to make their posts better? Here’s some good news! You can earn extra credit by doing extra commenting! This assignment will be available regularly throughout the semester.

  • Go to the Blog Stream of the Class
  • Pick a post that piques your curiosity and that you have not yet commented on
  • Use Hypothes.is group HST137, and leave feedback as we practiced with the Architects’s model
  • Pick 3 other posts: they can come from other students in the blog stream, or if you like the writer, you can stay with them and comment more.
  • The only conditions are
    • that you do not comment on blog posts you already commented on before, as part of your regular weekly “sourdough starter” tasks.
    • that the post is actually written for HST137, and not some other class. Check the category, and the content :upside down smiley:
  • Add the tag extra to the comment (this helps me to keep track of how many people use this option.)

When you’re done, please read this declaration carefully and then collect your points on Canvas with the Declaration Quiz.

I selected three blogs I have not yet commented on before, from our class’ blog stream, and I used the Hypothes.is group HST137.
I made sure to leave substantial comments that help the writer to improve the post, or to identify their strengths.
I added the tag extra to my Hypothes.is comments.
I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

2. Image Search

Due by Oct. 4, 11.59pm

Find all the details for this exercise on how to find images in the Public Domain or licensed to use freely on this dedicated webpage. You will also find the link to the declaration quiz there.


Where to ask questions

Remember that it is highly likely that you are not the only one with that question. Save me time, and help your fellow students by asking questions where others can see them. If you know the answer to a question, jump in! I can’t be everywhere all the time.

Missing link? Wrong information? Email me!

On to week 7 (coming soon!)