Need Help?

Skip to Content

CCA Portal

History+Theory. Kolam, New Delhi, India. Photograph by Deborah Valoma.jpeg

Textile History Courses

Last updated on Mar 23, 2023

At the center of the Textiles curriculum is a comprehensive series of courses on the history of global textile practices. The study of diverse textile traditions offers cross-cultural insights on topics such as cultural continuity and notions of authenticity, gendered labor and the cult of domesticity, and colonization and indigeneity. A historical knowledge of the field provides students with an informed perspective from which to understand hierarchies of aesthetic value and to produce conceptually strong work in the contemporary art arena. This series is the most comprehensive offered at an arts institution in the United States.

Courses are open to all majors. The following selected courses have been offered by the Textiles Program on a rotating basis in the last several years.

Fashioning the Social Body

The engine of Western fashion proclaims and disguises identities, constructs and deconstructs hierarchical systems, and upholds and transgresses binary structures. This course investigates Western sartorial strategies that construct the social body, with particular focus on colonial voyeurism, aesthetic appropriation, paradigms of authenticity, and cross-cultural and cross-gender dressing as statements of domination and resistance.

From Victorian to contemporary fashion, subjects include: Orientalist styles as erotic expressions of colonial rule; fashion’s “black face” as symbol of Western fetishistic “primitivism”; the transformation of traditional Polynesian tattooing into an expression of the marginalized “Other”; the role of “playing Indian” in the construction of American settler identity; and sobriety and extravagance as signatures of twentieth-century gender ideology.

Taught by Deborah Valoma

Constructing Identity: Textiles, Indigeneity, and Resistance

As indigenous communities contend with the continuing social and economic consequences of nineteenth-century colonization and navigate current global production schemes, textile traditions have changed from forms of physical survival, artistic expression, and spiritual intervention to vehicles for constructing identity and preserving culture. This course examines historical and contemporary textile practices of adaptation and resistance, such as African printed cloth, the basketry tradition of native California, and Gandhi’s use of hand-spun cloth in the fight for Indian independence. Readings and lectures highlight the perseverance of traditional artists and cultural continuity, appropriation and shifting definitions of "authenticity," and the social and political role of textiles in indigenous culture reclamation movements.

Taught by Deborah Valoma

Textile Biographies: Trade, Appropriation, and Hybridization

Uniquely portable, textiles were first transported along the ancient silk roads and later via sea routes opened by European trading companies in the 16th century. How were textiles transformed through the movement of people, the exchange of ideas, the transfer of techniques and materials, and the shifting modes of production? Using the investigative strategy “object biography,” this course investigates trade, colonization, appropriation, hybridization, and the shifting meaning of material culture. Topics include the influence of Japanese textiles on European art and product design, the trajectory of African printed cloth from Indonesian batik to Afro-Brazilian carnaval costumes, and the modernization of material use in Hawaii that lead to the Hawaiian print as a signifier of island culture.

Taught by Deborah Valoma

Women’s Work: Textiles, Gender, and Hierarchy

Thread work has come to be uniquely associated with notions of femininity. What accounts for this correlation and how has it influenced the historical understanding of weaving, quilting, crocheting, knitting, embroidering, and lace making? This course examines the textile arts from prehistoric to contemporary--with a special focus on gender ideologies, modes of production, and the shifting status of textiles within Western hierarchies of value. Topics include the role of spinning in Greek sexual politics, tapestry weaving and its aesthetic influence, embroidery and the creation of the feminine, the role of textile production in the Industrial Revolution, the power of European American and African American quilts in women’s political expression, the reclamation of hand processes in the Arts and Crafts movement, the gendered politics of the Bauhaus, and the feminist underpinnings of the 20th century fiber art movement.

Taught by Deborah Valoma

Photo credit: Deborah Valoma