Tag Archives: FiberSpace

Cotton Production in Antebellum Norton, Massachusetts

On February 21, I presented a pecha kucha for my colleagues in the FiberSpace at Wheaton College.  The FiberSpace is an extension of the WHALE Lab, which is Wheaton’s makerspace.  This year, Social Sciences Liaison Lauren Slingluff and Assistant Archivist Megan Wheaton-Book have teamed up to do some programming at the FiberSpace, and the event was one of a series they have been working on since classes started at the end of January.  My presentation was only a small part of Friday’s program; after a brief question period, it was followed by an opportunity to make squares for a community quilt that will decorate the space.  Hooray for making!

Below are the slides from this public event with a transcript of the narration for each, followed by a list of sources keyed by slide number.

This presentation takes its theme from a pamphlet that Laban Morey Wheaton collected when he visited the International Exhibition that opened in London on May first, 1862.  Wheaton and his wife, Eliza Baylies Wheaton, visited London in the spring and summer of 1862.

This presentation takes its theme from a pamphlet that Laban Morey Wheaton collected when he visited the International Exhibition that opened in London on May first, 1862. Wheaton and his wife, Eliza Baylies Wheaton, visited London in the spring and summer of 1862.

The pamphlet was produced by the Royal Italian Commission, and it concluded with a paragraph that offers a window on Wheaton’s position as a businessman whose interests included cotton mills in Norton, Massachusetts.

The pamphlet was produced by the Royal Italian Commission, and it concluded with a paragraph that offers a window on Wheaton’s position as a businessman whose interests included cotton mills in Norton, Massachusetts.

The slides include an example of the kinds of account books that Laban Morey Wheaton used to keep track of some of his business affairs.  And some of the slides illustrate the place of Norton’s textile mills in the overall map of textile production in Massachusetts and the United States as a whole.

The slides include an example of the kinds of account books that Laban Morey Wheaton used to keep track of some of his business affairs. And some of the slides illustrate the place of Norton’s textile mills in the overall map of textile production in Massachusetts and the United States as a whole.

I quote now from the final paragraph of the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet: South Carolina produces five hundred thousand bales of cotton, with a population of seven hundred and fifteen thousand inhabitants.  In Italy there is no want either of inhabitants or land to commence at once an extensive cultivation of cotton,

I quote now from the final paragraph of the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet:
South Carolina produces five hundred thousand bales of cotton, with a population of seven hundred and fifteen thousand inhabitants. In Italy there is no want either of inhabitants or land to commence at once an extensive cultivation of cotton,

Which might, perhaps, prevent the recurrence of one of the most fearful commercial crises which could take place, and possibly not a little contribute to the solution of that vital problem of modern civilization—the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Which might, perhaps, prevent the recurrence of one of the most fearful commercial crises which could take place, and possibly not a little contribute to the solution of that vital problem of modern civilization—the abolition of slavery in the United States.

The fearsome crisis—the so-called cotton famine of 1862—stilled approximately half of the four million spindles in mills north of the Potomac River.

The fearsome crisis—the so-called cotton famine of 1862—stilled approximately half of the four million spindles in mills north of the Potomac River.

A global shortage of raw cotton began when the Confederate government withheld the commodity from the international market in an effort to draw Great Britain into the U.S. Civil War, and the Union blockade of Confederate ports perpetuated the shortage.

A global shortage of raw cotton began when the Confederate government withheld the commodity from the international market in an effort to draw Great Britain into the U.S. Civil War, and the Union blockade of Confederate ports perpetuated the shortage.

After the introduction of power looms at Waltham and the rapid transformation of the village of West Chelmsford into the city of Lowell in the 1820s, the state of Massachusetts collected statistics on the number of factories and spindles within its boundaries.

After the introduction of power looms at Waltham and the rapid transformation of the village of West Chelmsford into the city of Lowell in the 1820s, the state of Massachusetts collected statistics on the number of factories and spindles within its boundaries.

Compared to those cities and as a proportion of the number of mills and spindles in the state as a whole, the four textile mills in Norton were so small in number at to seem insignificant.

Compared to those cities and as a proportion of the number of mills and spindles in the state as a whole, the four textile mills in Norton were so small in number at to seem insignificant.

Norton mills, however, fit into a mixed economy not unlike those of other rural towns and villages in the early nineteenth century.   Persistence of agriculture combined with industrial outwork and factory employment in such towns.

Norton mills, however, fit into a mixed economy not unlike those of other rural towns and villages in the early nineteenth century.
Persistence of agriculture combined with industrial outwork and factory employment in such towns.

Cotton manufacture had begun in Norton when the first spinning mills were erected in the town in 1810.  The manufacturers who built the mills combined the system of outwork with factory production, distributing at first the raw cotton and later the yarn from the mills to local families for the next stage of production.

Cotton manufacture had begun in Norton when the first spinning mills were erected in the town in 1810. The manufacturers who built the mills combined the system of outwork with factory production, distributing at first the raw cotton and later the yarn from the mills to local families for the next stage of production.

The cotton-spinning mill known as the Norton Manufacturing Company had been built on the Wading River in 1810, and it was incorporated in 1837.  When the failed firm was sold at auction, Wheaton joined with one of the former partners and another Norton resident to incorporate the Wheaton Manufacturing Company in 1844.

The cotton-spinning mill known as the Norton Manufacturing Company had been built on the Wading River in 1810, and it was incorporated in 1837. When the failed firm was sold at auction, Wheaton joined with one of the former partners and another Norton resident to incorporate the Wheaton Manufacturing Company in 1844.

The accounts of another Norton textile mill point to one of Wheaton’s connections to the larger Atlantic economy through the cotton industry.  In 1846, Wheaton purchased the Centre Mills, which had been established on the Rumford River in 1828.

The accounts of another Norton textile mill point to one of Wheaton’s connections to the larger Atlantic economy through the cotton industry. In 1846, Wheaton purchased the Centre Mills, which had been established on the Rumford River in 1828.

He employed his brother-in-law, Samuel A. Chapin, as his agent to run the mill, and Chapin’s accounts constitute a rich source of information about the running of a rural mill that produced cotton batting in the mid-1840s.

He employed his brother-in-law, Samuel A. Chapin, as his agent to run the mill, and Chapin’s accounts constitute a rich source of information about the running of a rural mill that produced cotton batting in the mid-1840s.

The account book identifies the operatives—men and women—who worked in the mill as well as the broker from whom Wheaton purchased raw cotton.  Providence merchant William Jones King provided cotton to Wheaton’s mills from Charleston, New Orleans, and Apalachicola.

The account book identifies the operatives—men and women—who worked in the mill as well as the broker from whom Wheaton purchased raw cotton. Providence merchant William Jones King provided cotton to Wheaton’s mills from Charleston, New Orleans, and Apalachicola.

A prominent broker on both the New York and Providence exchanges, King was also a trustee of Wheaton Female Seminary between 1848 and his death in 1885.

A prominent broker on both the New York and Providence exchanges, King was also a trustee of Wheaton Female Seminary between 1848 and his death in 1885.

As these maps demonstrate, efforts have been made since at least 1861 to illustrate the relationship between slavery and cotton in the antebellum United States.  And this relationship poses a conundrum for our view of Laban Morey Wheaton and the family wealth that supported Wheaton Female Seminary.

As these maps demonstrate, efforts have been made since at least 1861 to illustrate the relationship between slavery and cotton in the antebellum United States. And this relationship poses a conundrum for our view of Laban Morey Wheaton and the family wealth that supported Wheaton Female Seminary.

During the same years that Laban Morey Wheaton was establishing himself as a cotton manufacturer, he was also involved in antislavery activity.  In 1846 and 1848, he ran for Congress on the ticket of the Liberty Party, a single-issue party devoted to the abolition of slavery.

During the same years that Laban Morey Wheaton was establishing himself as a cotton manufacturer, he was also involved in antislavery activity. In 1846 and 1848, he ran for Congress on the ticket of the Liberty Party, a single-issue party devoted to the abolition of slavery.

The problem of opposing slavery philosophically and politically while at the same time needing raw cotton for economic success led to the production of numerous examples of the sort of thinking represented by the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet.

The problem of opposing slavery philosophically and politically while at the same time needing raw cotton for economic success led to the production of numerous examples of the sort of thinking represented by
the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet.

When Laban Morey Wheaton brought the pamphlet home from the London International Exhibition, he demonstrated the place of Norton and Wheaton Female Seminary in what Harvard historian Sven Beckert has called the “worldwide web of cotton production” in 1862.

When Laban Morey Wheaton brought the pamphlet home from the London International Exhibition, he demonstrated the place of Norton and Wheaton Female Seminary in what Harvard historian Sven Beckert has called the “worldwide web of cotton production” in 1862.

Sources

Slides 2, 3, 4, and 12: Wheaton Family Papers, M089, Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections, Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts.

Slide 5: Samuel Batchelder, Introduction and Early Progress of the Cotton Manufacture in the United States (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1863), 56, accessed 02/27/2013, HathiTrust.org, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/miun.ael6663.0001.001.

Slide 6: Batchelder, 1863, 80; George Faber Clark, A History of the Town of Norton, Bristol County, Massachusetts, from 1669 to 1859 (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, and Co., 1859), 341-343.

Slides 6-11 and 14: Tables and charts from statistics in Clark, Chapter XXII.

Slides 15 & 16: GoogleEarth, last accessed 02/20/2014.

Slide 17: Susan Schulten, “Mapping the Cotton Kingdom,” http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/mapping-the-cotton-kingdom/, last accessed 02/27/2014.

Slide 18: Matthew B. Hammond, The Cotton Industry: An Essay in American Economic History, Part I. The Cotton Culture and the Cotton Trade (New York: Macmillan, 1897), 60f.

Slide 19: TeachingAmericanHistory.org/neh/interactives/civilwar/lesson1/, last accessed 10/10/2012.

Slide 20: Sven Beckert, “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the World-Wide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the Civil War,” American Historical Review 109, no. 5 (Dec. 2004): 1405-1438.

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Filed under public history, Wheaton College Digital History Project

Knitting in a Course about Sex and Work (with thanks to Sandy Coleman)

When I taught my Sex and Work course in fall 2012, it caught the attention of Senior Associate Director of Communications and Wheaton Quarterly Editor Sandy Coleman because the U.S. military had recently changed its policy regarding women in combat. I am not a historian of the military though since I teach the history of the United States questions of war and military service are part of my general teaching repertoire.

Because Sandy saw a connection between the news event and my course, we had a couple of conversations, and she brought a photographer to our classroom the day the class visited the FiberSpace. After the second conversation, which included some excellent prompts to help me sound more eloquent, Sandy published her distillation of the conversations here.

I am publishing our initial written interview here as one way into some of the Digital Humanities ideas behind my including the fiber project in the course. I really do sound more eloquent in Sandy’s version, though. And it’s shorter, too.

Sandy Coleman: Describe the class and what you are covering.

Kathryn Tomasek: The course is called “Sex and Work.”

It’s a 300-level course for students in History and Women’s Studies.  We read about a book a week, and the books are all monographs written by historians.  The books cover the “long nineteenth century,” from about the middle of the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century.  A lot of them are about women and needlework, especially variations on sewing as work for which women were paid in various places and at various times in the United States.

SC: How did the idea for the new class come about?

KT: I’ve taught a version of this course for a long time.  But the current iteration grew partly out of a desire to strengthen enrollments and to give students who are interested in U.S. Women’s History a way to fulfill their major requirements in a course that focuses on intersections of race, gender, and class.

The newest part of the course—the Fiber Project—emerged from an opportunity related to the development of Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tom Armstrong’s MakerSpace and the new FiberSpace that he and Library and Information Services Social Sciences Liaison Lauren Slingluff have set up on the main floor of the old Science Center.

SC: How is this related to your field of scholarship?

KT: I’ve always done work at the intersections of disciplines—Women’s Studies, Utopian Studies—and in the past ten years that has meant Digital Humanities, broadly defined.  In my research, I have been working on developing guidelines for the scholarly markup of historical financial records, and I have had students participate in this transcription and markup in various courses.

My goal in bringing Digital Humanities to the classroom has been to help students understand what’s “under the hood” of the digital tools and media that are so omnipresent in our daily lives.  We think of the current generation of college students as “digital natives,” but most of them don’t know much about the computer code that underlies the Internet, the World Wide Web, and the devices that we use to access information.  So I’ve done a lot of different projects with students who are not in the sciences or math or computer sciences, to give them a bit of experience with code and thereby take away some of the mystery behind the screen. I hope that students find this empowering.

The FiberSpace emphasizes the commonalities between mathematics and needlework of various kinds, including knitting, crochet, and sewing.  The crochet coral reef is a great example of a project out in the world that engages these commonalities.

SC: Why do you think it is important to explore this subject at this point in time?

KT: Women have always worked, but the transition to industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century created new ways of valuing work and compensating people for it.  Cash, which people earned for the most part in jobs they did outside their homes and for employers, became necessary to pay for food, shelter, and fuel as more and more people moved away from the rural household economies that had been more typical in earlier periods.  When women worked for cash, they generally were paid less than men because of assumptions about their needs for cash.  Whereas men were seen to be in the workforce for their entire lives because they were considered responsible for supporting their wives and children.

We would like to believe that work opportunities for women have expanded more and more over time, and as you’ve noticed, the armed services in the United States has recently made it possible for women to serve in combat units.  At the same time, women in most economic sectors continue to be paid less than men.  There are, we all recognize now, variations in the differentials between the compensations received by women and men depending on the jobs that they do.

SC: What are you most excited about covering in this class?

KT: I’ve really enjoyed watching the students learn about the realities of the work lives of women in the past, both within their homes and outside them.

SC: You mentioned a fiber project? Tell me about that and how it relates to the subject matter.

KT: We have a lot of cultural metaphors and sometimes even myths about needlework as women’s work, and historians have done a lot of work to discover evidence about the realities behind the metaphors and myths.  At various points in the past—the 1820s for instance—people felt it was important to instruct girls and young women in “traditional women’s work” because they were concerned that needlework skills were being lost.

At this point in time, we tend to think of needlework as a hobby.  Nobody relies on their mom or sister for socks—we just buy them at the local big box store.  And over the past couple of decades, young women—feminists—have taken on needlework as their own.  We might call this the “Stitch ‘n’ Bitch” phenomenon—that was one phrase that caught on a few years back; the Wheaton College knitting club called themselves by that name at one point.

In part because Tom and Lauren created the FiberSpace and in part because I wanted to rethink this course, I decided that adding a fiber project to the course would give the students and me a way to bring together my interests in the history of women’s work with my desire to find new ways for students to engage with simple computer code.

So this semester, students in the course are each making something with fiber.  They are knitting or crocheting something—most of them are making scarves of one kind or another—and finding a way to incorporate the simply circuitry available in the MakerSpace to make the objects interactive.  Our class will have both a poster and an exhibit in the Academic Festival in April.

SC: What do you think of the lifting of the ban on women in combat jobs?

KT: Since we are a nation at war and have been for longer than ever before in our history, I think it is change that is long past due.  For myself, I would rather we were not at war and nobody had to put their lives on the line.

SC: What is the significance of that decision?

KT: Women have wanted to be in combat and have been told not to worry their pretty heads about it.  Having denied them these roles has not prevented their being raped when they serve in war zones.  Perhaps giving their male counterparts the opportunity to see them as equals on the field of battle will have a positive effect with regard to this kind of horrible gender violence within the armed services.

SC: Why do gender divisions in labor persist? And is that good or bad?

KT: We have a lot of cultural baggage about the differences between women and men.  Despite centuries of efforts on the parts of countless women and men to break down gender assumptions in various places at various times, human beings keep positing these differences.  Personally, I resist them because I feel limited by them and I think that they limit our collective accomplishments as human beings.

SC: Do we need to break down all gender divisions in labor or just particular ones?

KT: I would rather see us required to prove the necessity of gender divisions of labor than the opposite.  In my view, a world that begins from “yes” is always better than a world that begins from “no.”

SC: What are you hoping that students get most out of this course?

KT: I hope they learn to value women’s labor and ways to make arguments for that value.

SC: Why do you think the general public should be considering these issues?

KT: Our world continues to open opportunities for people who have previously been limited by “no.”  I would love to see every single human being have the opportunity to achieve their greatest potential.  I think that breaking down barriers to that achievement is one of the most important projects that women and men have undertaken across time and space.

 

 

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Filed under digital humanities, teaching

Knitting, Making, and U.S. Women’s History

One of my local projects for this leave is a presentation I’ll be doing at an event at the FiberSpace at Wheaton College this month. You can follow FiberSpace on Twitter @WHTNfiberspace .

The presentation focuses on the Wheaton family and cotton manufacture, a topic I’ve presented at a couple of conferences. The event also highlights some connections between my teaching and things I have learned about fiber work and mathematics over the past ten years. So over the next couple of days, I will post some things related to these connections.

Several are related to a course I taught during the spring semester of 2013. The course, Sex and Work in the 19th-century United States, included the first iteration of a Fiber Project that students wrote up in a poster for the college’s Academic Festival in April 2013. The poster is attached here.

AcademicFestival2013

Note: Students were asked for permission to post their work and images, and I have followed their wishes in posting.

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Filed under teaching