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Only the Clothes on Her Back

Author: Laura F. Edwards

Only the Clothes on Her Back shifts the analytical frame from property the minority owned to property the majority possessed, a shift that changes our understandings of Americans' relationship to the law and the development of the state.  Exploring the relationship between the textile trade in the nineteenth century and institutions of law and governance, Edwards reveals the ways that subordinated groups engaged in trade, used the legal system, and ultimately shaped the nation’s governing institutions.  As such, the project provides a new framework for understanding the development of inequality in the United States. Today, we tend to link the inequality that still plagues all women, men of color, and poor people to a history defined by their exclusion from the rights necessary to access the legal system and to exercise political power.  Edwards’s scholarship reveals a more complicated history, one in which all these people were deeply involved in the legal system, even when civil and political rights were denied to them. As her work suggests, the problems of inequality today are more entrenched and more difficult to resolve than we have thought.

Edwards' research will culminate in a forthcoming book, "Only the Clothes on Her Back: Women, Textiles, and State Formation in the Nineteenth Century United States."

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