Laura F. Edwards F'19

Laura F. Edwards
Professor
History
Duke University

ACLS Fellowship Program 2019
Professor
History
Duke University
Only the Clothes on Her Back: Textiles, Law, and Commerce in the Nineteenth-Century United States

“Only the Clothes on Her Back” tells the history of law and commerce in the United States between the Revolution and the Civil War by foregrounding textiles. Textiles figured prominently in the new republic because of their legal status, widely understood at the time, but overlooked in the scholarship. Longstanding legal practices recognized the attachment of clothing to its wearer, which extended to cloth and applied even to married women and enslaved people who could not claim other forms of property. When draped in textiles, people assumed distinct legal forms that were difficult to ignore: they could own textiles, trade them, and make claims to them. That was what they did, using textiles as leverage to include themselves in the new republic’s economy and governing institutions.