Amanda J. Wunder (Research Fellow, September–December 2017) is associate professor of history at the City University of New York’s Lehman College in the Bronx. She is also on the faculty of the art history department and the Renaissance Studies program at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she teaches graduate seminars on early modern Iberian art and material culture and on early modern European fashions and textiles. She is the author of Baroque Seville: Sacred Art in a Century of Crisis, published by Penn State Press in 2017. At Bard Graduate Center, she is working on a new book about fashion controversies and gender politics in early modern Spain.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you became interested in your research area.

I am writing a book about seventeenth-century Spanish fashion—a topic that brings together personal as well as professional interests. I first became interested in early modern Spain as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University, where I took a terrific class on early modern European history my sophomore year and then spent my junior year abroad in Seville. My PhD is in history, but I gravitated towards the art history department as a graduate student at Princeton, where there was a lot of interdisciplinary cross-over amongst faculty and students working on early modern Europe. In my current position at CUNY, I teach undergraduate classes on early modern European and Spanish history at Lehman College, and graduate classes in the art history program at the Graduate Center. Early in my teaching career, I had a life-changing fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s where I had my first experience working with early modern textiles at the Antonio Ratti Textile Center. The deeper, non-academic background to my current research project dates back to my teenage years, when I started making my own clothes. My mom taught me the basics of sewing, and a friend I met in art school one summer introduced me to vintage patterns. I collected hundreds of old patterns for pennies each at the Goodwill and Salvation Army, and I held onto them even after moving to New York and downsizing everything else. The garment district is one of my very favorite things about New York, and I’ve taken some couture sewing and pattern-making classes at FIT. So my current research, which requires reading patterns as well as seventeenth-century archival documents, combines interests and skills accumulated over many years.

What attracted you to the Bard Graduate Center fellowship?

The people at BGC. Before applying for the fellowship, I had some great experiences working with BGC faculty and students: I gave an evening lecture here in the fall of 2014, and then I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop on early modern books and objects that BGC faculty organized at the Folger Institute (Washington, D.C.) in spring 2016. On both occasions, the discussions were really dynamic and productive, and also a lot of fun. As a historian who’s interested in objects and how they’re made, I immediately felt at home at the BGC, and this was where I most wanted to be while starting to write this book about early modern fashion.

What is the focus and result of your research here?

This fall I’ve been working through a huge pile of documents—account records of artisans at the court of Philip IV—from the Royal Palace Archive in Madrid. These sources are a treasure-trove of raw data, but it’s not at all obvious how to deploy this information in a useful and interesting way. It’s been immensely helpful to be in dialogue with BGC faculty and students as I try to figure this out. These conversations have introduced me to new primary sources (thank you, Christine Griffiths, for Lady Fanshawe!) and have helped me step back from my sources and see the bigger picture—namely that these court artisans played a really interesting role in the fashion world of early modern Madrid as men and women who were constantly crossing the invisible border between the court and the city around it.

What are you goals after the fellowship?

First and foremost, to finish writing the book! Then I’m really interested in exploring the possibility of organizing a museum exhibition on early modern Spanish fashion.

What would be your advice to young researchers/students still trying to decide a career path for themselves, whether in academia or in the museums?

This is a tough one. I can only speak to careers in academia, but even there the landscape has changed so much in recent years that I’m not sure where things are headed. The best advice I can offer is to take a hard, clear-eyed look at the realities of the academic market and try to think broadly about a range of possible career options. The academic job market is maddeningly competitive and capricious, and it’s impossible to master-mind, so I would advise students to focus on those things that are under their control—like finishing the dissertation.