History | Men and Women of Fashion: The Politics of Dress in the Age of Revolution
B303 | 12928 | S. Koscak

Above class open to undergraduates and EDUC MA's only

What does fashion have to do with politics?  This course aims to
explore this question by focusing on the important role of dress and
display at one particular historical moment – the age of revolution
on both sides of the Atlantic during the second half of the
eighteenth century.  This period, which saw the establishment of
constitutionalist states and republics in former absolutist
monarchies and imperial colonies, also witnessed the beginnings of
unprecedented commercial expansion that transformed fashion.  By
selectively focusing on the history of clothing and dress in
Britain, America, France, and Haiti, we will examine fashion’s
political significance. Themes we will consider include the
relationship between democratic politics and the symbolism of dress,
the construction of political allegiance through clothing, and the
gender politics of fashionable display. One of the main goals of
this course is to consider continuities and differences in the
meanings of fashion across these distinct but related revolutionary
crises in order to question how broader political movements and
transformations had far-reaching consequences affecting individual
self-presentation.  How do politics, an arena traditionally defined
as public, consequential, rational, and masculine, impact the realm
fashion, often seen as private, inconsequential, irrational, and
feminine?  And conversely, does fashion affect politics?  Is it
significant that Tom Paine, the English radical remembered for his
role in the American and French Revolutions, also earned his living
making corsets?

There are no prerequisites for this course.  Students will complete
weekly in-class writing assignments, two short essays (1000 words)
and one final comparative essay (2000 words).  Because the topic is
very focused, there is no single suitable textbook for this course.
Instead, the readings (a wide selection of primary and secondary
sources) are excerpted from a broad range of books and articles,
most of which will be made available via E-Reserves.  There will be
two books for purchase: Maria Edgeworth’s "Belinda" and Leonora
Sansay’s, "Secret History; or, The Horrors of St. Domingo."   We
will also have the opportunity to examine historical renderings and
digital images of surviving clothing, and we will screen selections
from recent films set in the late-eighteenth century.