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Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years - Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times Paperback – September 17, 1995


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Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years - Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times + Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity + Women, Art, and Society (Fifth Edition)  (World of Art)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (September 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393313484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393313482
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While men dominated early agriculture, women for millennia took primary responsibility for sewing, weaving textiles and making clothing. In this beautifully illustrated study, Barber ( Prehistoric Textiles ) retrieves an important chapter in the history of civilization by drawing on archeological evidence, ancient texts, myths and linguistics to reconstruct women's paramount role in the fiber arts until the start of the late Bronze Age, about 1500 B.C., when, Barber observes, the advent of commercial textiles brought men to the looms. In prehistoric Europe, women invented elaborate textiles with complex designs; women of ancient Anatolia ran cloth-making establishments. Barber begins her saga with the description of a Paleolithic "Venus figure" that dates from about 20,000 B.C. and is carved wearing a skirt woven of loose strings. Ranging from Egypt to Greece to Sumatra, covering the period from 20,000-500 B.C., Barber illuminates women's changing social status as makers of cloth and clothing.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this age of ready-to-wear clothing and shopping malls, we sometimes forget that for the first 20,000 years of human existence, all textiles-from everyday clothing to ship's sails-were made by women (and sometimes men) who used a hand spindle to spin threads and a loom to weave the threads into cloth. As an archaeologist and a knowledgeable weaver capable of reproducing the cloth remnants she is studying, Barber is ideally qualified to investigate early textile production and its relation to women's changing roles in ancient societies. Here she reconstructs the history of textiles (primarily in Europe and the Near East), based on the hard evidence of archaeology, geology, art, and ancient texts. Her approach is scholarly yet presupposes no practical knowledge of textile production on the part of the reader. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.
Janice Zlendich, California State Univ. Lib., Fullerton
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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This book is very well written.
K. A. Preston
If you are a weaver, you have to read this book from cover to cover and keep it on your bookshelf forever.
Kindle Customer
This book is fascinating and easy to read, full of interesting history and textiles.
Barbara J. Heller

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By AmazonCat on November 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book covers a huge amount of information without ever being dry or boring. The tone is conversational throughout and incredibly interesting. The author shows us the oldest surviving fragment of cloth (a wool plaid from 800 B.C.) and then weaves a replica herself to see how long it would have taken to make. There are examples of Greek pottery showing women weaving at warp-weighted looms, which allows the author to tell us about the migration of peoples by describing finds of loom weights in Egypt. Other pottery fragments show women walking and hand spinning at the same time, and then a drawing of the Venus de Milo, with arms drawn on, shows that her arms are in the same position and she was very likely spinning thread. It's a marvelous book that's as easy to understand as a conversation over a fence with your neighbor. In fact, there's a picture of two modern Hungarian girls doing just that while wearing their typical bell-like national costume, and beside this picture is a scene from a mid-first millennium B.C. vase found in Hungary showing a very similar costume. The author moves us back and forth through history and across the continents with ease and interest. It's a fabulous book.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Jennie on June 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
I bought this book after attending some lectures Wayland Barber gave at Grinnell College. Amazingly well-researched, well-argued, and thought provoking, this book isn't in the least bit dry or heady. Thoroughly academic, but still a pleasent read! Tracing the global connections of development and using several disciplines to gather evidence makes for an amazing work. Who would have known linguistics to be so important to textile history? Or how much textile history can tell us not only about social history, but political history as well. Read this book.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Loren Tripp on April 19, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had the privelege of attending a lecture by the author recently, and ran out immediately after to get the book. It is clearly written and obviously well researched, and Barber has a refreshing, unique perspective in archaeology: she views her subject from more than one angle. Looking at "women's work" as an archaeologist, linguist and weaver, Barber is able to see the bigger picture, and points out gaping holes in most prehistoric civilization studies: little, if any, mention of textile production, and its sweeping impact on early society. Barber has reproduced many of these textiles herself, and in my mind, this practical experience makes her more than just another academician spouting theory. The book is a good read, and thankfully the author does not use this material to plug any revisioinist-history agenda. I look forward to her next book, possibly a study connecting language, archaeology, etc., with regard to textiles found in N.W. South America that have a stiking similarity to some Asian textiles. This was brought up as a final point in the lecture: we all await the next chapter!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By katdreams@primary.net on July 22, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a scholarly yet easily read book about the history of textiles, from basic string to complex weaves, and also about the fascinating history of the social development of humanity, from hunter-gatherers on.
The author's research is thorough and includes archeological evidence, analysis and identification of artifacts, maps and descriptions of trade routes, consideration of stories and myths, photographs, letters, and even human physiology. Her theories, including why women are absent from most historical records and what the Venus de Milo was doing with her now-missing arms, are eye-opening and firmly grounded in her extensive research.
Further, this book covers a lot of ground as well as time. Geographically, areas from the Eastern reaches to Europe and down into Egypt are presented, and comparisons between ancient and modern costumes and traditions are made.
During the course of the book the author makes the cogent point that archeologists and historians m! ight do well to attempt recreation of artifacts found (using time-appropriate methods); her own experiences in making such a recreation is telling and amusing. Likewise, her observations on customs and costumes (those which have survived, those which have not, and possible reasons why) suggest that sociology has much to add to our understanding of history, of the hows and whys humans have lived and developed.
I found this book to be suprising, thought-provoking, entertaining, and a good reference source. I have presented copies to two of my friends (they kept borrowing my copy!), and will it serve as a gift to three more (who keep trying to borrow mine, but I've learned my lesson).
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Erin on August 25, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anyone interested in so-called gender studies, textiles, prehistory, or just in regular people ought to read this book. The authoress, in incredibly simple language (she can't REALLY be an academic, can she?), tells the story of women and the textile work that has (pre-) historically been theirs. Bringing the insight that only a practicing weaver or spinner could have to the dusty world of archeology, she sweeps the reader into the homes of real people. Lots of metaphors, but honestly, it's that kind of book: rich. I only wish I could read it again for the first time.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "twilight93" on May 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a fiber artist, I am very interested in the history of fiber. Elizabeth Barber's "Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years" is fantastic, both as a history of the use of fibers and as a history of working women. I learned a great deal about women's role in society from her research, and it makes me proud to be a modern woman working with fiber, just as my ancestors did. Highly recommended!
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