“The history of textiles engages with the history of technology and science in interesting ways; it engages with economics and culture similarly.”
Journalist and scholar Virginia Postrel rejoins the show to celebrate her brand-new book, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made The World (Basic Books). We get into how textiles intersect with technology, culture, commerce, politics, and more, the long gestation of this book & the dress that started it all, humanity’s textile-amnesia, and Virginia’s reversal of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of technology. We talk about the textile skills she learned (or tried to learn) in prep for the book and how she’s now the owner of several looms, the extensive travel she undertook for research, how the book wouldn’t have been possible during the pandemic, the notion of civilization as both survival technology and a cumulative process, how social technologies were just as key as physical ones to our development, and more! Give it a listen! And go read The Fabric of Civilization!
“It’s fascinating to focus on the technology and the production of textiles, but the whole reason that we do all that stuff is because we want to have cloth to use. It’s all about the consumers, ultimately.”
“In the past couple of decades, we’ve had the first truly global civilization. There were many different cultures, but a shared civilization is something new. And now it’s in danger of coming to an end after a short life.”
About our Guest
Virginia Postrel is an award-winning journalist and independent scholar. She is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and has been a columnist for the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. She is the author of the highly acclaimed The Substance of Style and The Power of Glamour. Her research is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. She lives in Los Angeles. Her new book is The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made The World, from Basic Books.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Virginia by Sonya Isenberg. It’s on my instagram.