The Social Life of Islamic Textiles

Before the age of mass production, textiles could be worth their weight in gold. Their value dwarfed the containers used to transport them and the houses whose walls they adorned, and signified the social standing of the people who wore them. This course examines the textiles produced in the lands of Islam (from the Oxus to the Iberian Peninsula) from the seventh through seventeenth centuries, following their distribution, adaptation and circulation in lands distant from their origin. We will trace the networks of materials and techniques that produced objects from humble linen sheets to rich tapestry-woven silk curtains and will follow individual objects as they moved, whether as commodity, booty or gift, into new cultural zones, often changing form and function along the way. Following Arjun Appadurai’s concept of “the social life of things,” we will use textiles in motion to illuminate the people and cultures that surrounded them. This course will be part of the International Islamic Material Culture Webinar Initiative, and will be a hybrid seminar/webinar, with participants from Bard Graduate Center joined virtually by participants from around the world. A visit to the Cooper-Hewitt is planned. 3 credits. Satisfies the non-Western or pre-1800 requirement.