Sunday, March 12, 2023

Maeve Kane's "Shirts Powdered Red"

Maeve Kane is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She received her PhD in American History from Cornell University.

Kane applied the "Page 99 Test" to Shirts Powdered Red: Haudenosaunee Gender, Trade, and Exchange across Three Centuries, her first book, and reported the following:
From page 99:
After the introduction of cloth and woolen yarns, Haudenosaunee women incorporated these new materials into twined and fingerwoven fabrics alongside Indigenous plant and animal fibers. They used imported yarn to elaborate on existing Indigenous weaving techniques from the seventeenth century into the twenty-first century. Together with imported beads, the combination of technique and material created a visual vocabulary that did not previously exist and that continues to flourish in the present. Dutch and French merchants sold narrow, one and two-color woven bands out of Albany and Montreal beginning in the seventeenth century, but fingerweaving has persisted into the twenty-first century. European materials replaced plant materials, but this merely shifted the labor burden of the production of raw materials to European workers and allowed Haudenosaunee women to spend more time on decorative work. Purchasing beads and multicolored yarns from traders like Wendell, and outsourcing basic clothing production opened new design possibilities for Haudenosaunee women to elaborate on existing decorative traditions.
My first impulse was that page 99 wasn't a very accurate reflection on the book, since this is the only section where I deal with this specific kind of evidence. But after some reflection I think it does actually reflect the heart of my argument and the kinds of questions that drew me (and hopefully readers) to the project in the first place.

My book is about self-fashioning. I'm interested in how people define themselves and their communities and we all declare who we are when we get dressed every morning. There's so much written in archival records and in scholarship about what Europeans thought about non-Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries, and I wanted to more directly see how Indigenous people in that time period thought about themselves.

The passage on page 99 is talking about relatively small, mundane objects--fingerwoven bands were often used as belts, hair ties, and stocking garters. I think what page 99 shows here is how much you can get by asking why something was made, who made it, and why the way it was made changed over time.

I start the book with an 18th century watercolor of a Mohawk woman and end with a 19th century photo of Ga:hahno Caroline Parker, a member of the Seneca Wolf clan. I think page 99 captures the distance between those two images really well. The watercolor is like a lot of European written descriptions of Indigenous people: the woman is anonymous and it's not clear if it shows a specific woman or just what the painter thought Mohawk women looked like. The photo of Parker shows her wearing clothing she made to specifically articulate her vision of Seneca tradition and push back against American definitions of savagery. In between, there's many small objects made by many different people, and what they might mean about how Haudenosaunee people saw themselves and their nations.
Visit Maeve Kane's website.

--Marshal Zeringue