Introduction: Why Textiles Make a Difference

  • E. Jane Burns
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The essays in this collection reveal the richness and importance of using dress, textiles, and cloth production as categories of analysis in medieval studies. Textiles and the representation of them in literary, historical, art historical, legal, and religious documents provide a particularly apt tool for medievalists of various disciplines because textiles stand at the nexus of the personal and the cultural, often linking specific, individual expressions to institutionalized and hierarchical social structures. The spectrum of possibilities raised by the study of medieval cloth and clothing in all their represented forms ranges widely from the use and circulation of garments as a mark of visible wealth, social position, or class status to the varied attempts by clerical and legal authorities to regulate gender and rank by controlling dress and ornamentation. The spectrum extends further into the production, distribution, care, use, and decoration of textiles themselves, often as forms of gendered labor. It also encompasses the cross-cultural and economic effects of trade and exchange of fabrics through pilgrimage and crusade that brought Islamic and Byzantine traditions into the wardrobes of western Europe.


Material Culture Cultural Formation Animal Skin Cultural Icon Leather Shoe 
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