New Book | Threads of Global Desire: Silk in the Pre-Modern World

Posted in books by Editor on June 13, 2018

From Boydell & Brewer:

Dagmar Schäfer, Giorgio Riello, Luca Molà, eds., Threads of Global Desire: Silk in the Pre-Modern World (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2018), 438 pages, ISBN: 9781783272938, $99.

Considering silk as a major force of cross-cultural interaction, this book examines the integration of silk production and consumption into various cultures in the pre-modern world.
Silk has long been a global commodity that, because of its exceptional qualities, high value, and relative portability, came to be traded over very long distances. Similarly, the silk industry—from sericulture to the weaving of cloth—was one of the most important fields of production in the medieval and early modern world. The production and consumption of silks spread from China to Japan and Korea and travelled westward as far as India, Persia and the Byzantine Empire, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. As contributors to this book demonstrate, in this process of diffusion silk fostered technological innovation and allowed new forms of organization of labour to emerge. Its consumption constantly reshaped social hierarchies, gender roles, aesthetic and visual cultures, as well as rituals and representations of power.

Threads of Global Desire is the first attempt at considering a global history of silk in the pre-modern era. The book examines the role of silk production and use in various cultures and its relation to everyday and regulatory practices. It considers silk as a major force of cross cultural interaction through technological exchange and trade in finished and semi-finished goods. Silks mediated design and a taste for luxuries and were part of gifting practices in diplomatic and private contexts. Silk manufacturing also fostered the circulation of skilled craftsmen, connecting different centres and regions across continents and linking the countryside to urban production.

Dagmar Schäfer is Director of Department 3 ‘Artefacts, Action, and Knowledge’ at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and Professor h.c. of the History of Technology at the Technical University, Berlin.

Giorgio Riello is Professor of Global History and Culture at the University of Warwick. He has published extensively on the history of material culture and trade in early modern Europe and Asia and in particular on textiles and fashion.

Luca Molà is Professor of Early Modern Europe: History of the Renaissance and the Mediterranean in a World Perspective at the European University Institute in Fiesole.


• Luca Molà and Giorgio Riello and Dagmar Schäfer, Introduction: Silk in the Pre-Modern World
• Dagmar Schäfer, Power and Silk: The Central State and Localities in State-owned Manufacture during the Ming Reign (1368–1644)
• Angela Sheng, Why Velvet? Localised Textile Innovation in Ming China
• Rudi Matthee, The Dutch East India Company and Asian Raw Silk: From Iran to Bengal via China and Vietnam
• Amanda Phillips, The Localisation of the Global: Ottoman Silk Textiles and Markets, 1500–1790
• Suraiya Faroqhi, Ottoman Silks and their Markets at the Borders of the Empire, c. 1500–1800
• Lisa Monnas, A Study in Contrasts: Silk Consumption in Italy and England during the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
• David M. Mitchell, What d’ye lack Ladies? Hoods, Ribbands, very fine silk stockings: The Silk Trades in Restoration London
• Lesley Ellis Miller, From Design Studio to Marketplace: Products, Agents, and Methods of Distribution in the Lyons Silk Manufactures, 1660–1789
• José L. Gasch-Tomás, The Manila Galleon and the Reception of Chinese Silk in New Spain, c. 1550–1650
• Ben Marsh, ‘The Honour of the Thing’: Silk Culture in Eighteenth-Century Pennsylvania
• Karolina Hutková, A Global Transfer of Silk Reeling Technologies: The English East India Company and the Bengal Silk Industry
• Fujita Kayoko, Changing Silk Culture in Early Modern Japan: On Foreign Trade and the Development of ‘National’ Fashion, from the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Century
• Giorgio Riello, Textile Spheres: Silk in a Global and Comparative Context

Notes on Contributors

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