Something more than mere ornament : cloth and Indian-European relationships in the eighteenth century
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This thesis took root when my advisor Jennifer Brown handed me a recent publication entitled Cloth and Human Experience, a collection of anthropological, art historical, and ethnographic approaches to the functions of cloth in various societies. The text were multivocal but united on one theme: the conviction that cloth, clothing and adornment are central to the historical study of human relationships, past and present. Cloth's significance in Northern Algonquian societies remained to be seen, but a preliminary reading of the primary sources revealed that of the dozens of European commodities sent to the Hudson's Bay Company posts during the eighteenth century, cloth was a persistent best-se11er. Many scholars are now recognizing that the fur trade was not just about trading European goods for furs but an interactive process more complex and dynamic than was previously realized. Francis and Morantz and Bruce White, for example, have concluded that the fur trade was a process of human interaction in which the exchange of goods was a symbol for a much wider set of contacts between Indian and white traders. For the purposes of this thesis, the category cloth includes ready-made items such as coats, handkerchiefs, hats and shirts and blankets; and decorative materials like lace, ribbons and gartering. Flags are considered to be a special kind of ceremonial cloth. The aboriginal groups of most interest here are the Cree and Ojibwa, two branches of the Northern Algonquian peoples of the eastern subarctic who occupied the regions between western Hudson Bay, the Great Lakes and the Lake Winnipeg basin. As much as possible, I have tried to specify which groups were indicated, although the task was complicated by the fact that they were commonly regarded as interchangeable in company records...
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