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The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679445944
ISBN-10: 0679445943
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1851, when theologian Horace Bushnell stood on the village green in Litchfield, Conn., and looked back lovingly on the "Age of Homespun," he was expressing a perennial American nostalgia for the "good old days," when clothing and other necessities were mostly made at home by family labor. Historian Ulrich (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Midwife's Tale) has not set out to deflate the sentimentality that accompanies Bushnell's vision, but rather to trace its genesis and understand how it has weathered the test of time. In her previous works, Ulrich studied the lives of ordinary people, examining their diaries and what they left for probate when they died in order to understand their place in history. Here, under the tutelage of various museum curators, Ulrich shifts toward a material culture study studying objects to understand the people who used them. From 14 artifacts of early American life (baskets, spinning wheels, needlework, etc.), Ulrich uncovers details about their makers and users and the communities they built. Eighteenth-century New England was a battleground of Indian, colonist, slave and European cultures, and each left its mark on the design of these "surviving objects." A quote from Bushnell and an illustration of an object open each chapter. What follows is anything from a rambling digression on a particular cabinet's provenance to a detailed discussion of how dyes were made or flax prepared. As fascinating as the book can be, though, general readers may give up halfway through, finding it frustratingly diffuse and too much of a patchwork. But early Americanists, historical sleuths and "textilians" will delight. 165 illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Items produced in the home to be used by their owners and treasured by later generations are worthy of study in their own right, but they also tell us much about those who made and kept them. Ulrich, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, again offers brilliant insights into the lives of early Americans, as she examines their material culture as well as their lives. This engaging combination of women's studies, history, and the study of museum artifacts will delight a wide variety of readers. Chapter by chapter, Ulrich presents interesting early American objects and follows their description with the even more fascinating stories of the people who owned them and the world in which they lived. This work, approachable for the casual reader but based upon firm scholarship, would be a welcome addition to most larger academic and public libraries. Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (October 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679445943
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679445944
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
More story than history, more history than archaeology, Mrs. Ulrich's wonderful book, "The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth" is really something special.
Mrs. Ulrich walks us through history by examining a collection of early American objects. From baskets to cupboards to cloth, Mrs. Ulrich looks at the stories behind each piece and the implications of "homespun" (homemade, useful items) on the larger picture of history.
I am impressed by the keen and loving eye Mrs. Ulrich brings to her work. The background information on each type of these items must be vast, but Mrs. Ulrich seems to have an easy fluency in all of them. She combines this knowledge with a passion for history and a flair for storytelling. What results is a wonderful book.
The effect of struggle on craft-making and the effect of craft-making on conflict within history casts light on a little observed part of our history. Likewise, it gives us much to ponder about the future.
I give "The Age of Homespun" a hearty recommendation.
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Format: Hardcover
Excellent book! I had no idea that provenance could be so exciting! Ms. Ulrich is detail oriented and that is definitely a plus. She'll begin talking about a seemingly simple basket then launch into a social history of the place, people and time that basket was used by examining articles and announcements in the newspaper lining the basket. Brilliant! I learned so much about our America that I didn't know. Lemuel Haynes, revered 18th century black Reverend, wow! I was shocked and amused to find that people were struggling with what to do with the homeless back in 1795! What a complex and interesting place we live in. As a huge fan of American history I found this book to be a treasure. Read it if you want to know more about your American self.
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Format: Hardcover
The Age of Homespun was an age created out of American myth, but behind this mythology Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has found many treasures of true lives led. The author takes fourteen objects and spins out a story of cultures clashing and times changing. It is a fascinating series of narratives richly written with economy and style. Ulrich is most effective in showing the Indian struggle in this settlers' Age of Homespun. The author leaves no one out of the story and her selection of objects reflects this care as she cleverly creates a complete mosiac for this age. The only struggle I had with the book was my own ignorance of spinning, weaving, carding, etc., therefore being confused by some of the terms and concepts. An interesting book and a pleasure to read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Read this book to find out how the impulse to fill our closets with old textiles and oddments fulfills a cultural tradition so deeply imbedded that it may as well be a genetic imperative. Ulrich's sensitive descriptions of the nuances of colonial society explain how bits of fabric evoke class distinctions, wealth, and a sense of self worth. Perhaps even more interestingly, the interpretations that the decendants give to these items tell us more about their contemporary society than genuine colonial history -- something to muse over as we wish for the "good old days" (My goodness, who would EVER have thought the 1970's would be something to remember fondly?!?)
This is a scholarly book, and the earlier review that suggests readers may be tempted to give up halfway through is correct. Stick with it though -- there are rewarding insights in the final chapters. Throughout, the early colonial history is fascinating and the personal details are tantalizing.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One stitch at a time, one woven inch a day. It's hard for us nowadays when every piece of clothing from our skin to winter hats & gloves come from every country in the world, made on machines.

My kind of history book: it takes a handstitched/woven relic & expands on its past & future, reminding us that after the War for Independence, America headed straight into the Industrial Revolution which had historic & life-changing influences on the family unit. Imagine how treadle sewing machines changed women's clothes.

Have given a copy to all the women in my life whether they sew or not, & we talk/email about it. Amazing the attitudes: One of the first reactions was from a friend 16 years older: "Women were such slaves then!" I reminded her that her husband still labors for hours every single day in the fields of their farm.

30 years ago this would have fed the Feminist Fire, today, Feminist though I be, I'm old enough to read it for the information, vision & wisdom it transfers.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the Age of Homespun, Ulrich examines "homespun" artifacts or artifacts relating to the creation and storage of homespun goods in early colonial America. Each chapter of her text is devoted to a particular artifact, such as an Indian basket, spinning wheels, a Niddy-Noddy, a chimneypiece, a pocketbook, linens, and a cupboard.

However, the chapters are not merely about these artifacts. Instead, Ulrich uses the artifacts as a lens or a vehicle through which she examines the complex social, cultural, economic, and political dynamics of the time period the artifact stems from. Further, Ulrich uses these articles to "write" history--women's history--that has largely been unwritten in history texts.

Each chapter of her text really undermines the myth of an idyllic and pastoral society and provides a fascinating look at the complexity of the times.
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