Friday, February 25, 2011

Researching Cloaks and Everything Else

How did Sue Felshin find the documentation and resources used to write her article on short cloaks?

The first step is to recognize the various types of sources that provide information while studying historical costume.  They can easily be broken down into two main categories, primary and secondary.

Primary sources are original uninterpreted information.  For our purposes a newspaper advertisement, diary, inventory entry, ledger or artifact can be a primary source.

New Hampshire Gazette, June 29, 1774
This advertisement tell us that a black silk cloak with taffeta (smooth lightweight silk) on the outside and a persian lining (lightweight silk often used to line 18th century garments) is interlined with blue baize (a heavy woolen cloth) was lost in Newington, New Hampshire.

Reading a primary 18th century document can be a challenge.  Creative and inconsistent spelling and odd abbreviations are the norm.  Textile terminology can be often confusing and incomprehensible utilizing unfamiliar words in unusual ways, almost a new language and it is not English! 

A dictionary is invaluable when studying a new language, and the best textile dictionary currently available to us is Florence Montgomery's, "Textiles in America 1650-1870", ISBN-10: 039373224X.  Her comprehensive explanations combined with an easy alphabetical format makes looking up words such as "persian" a snap!

Secondary sources are written by those not directly involved with the primary event, such as analysis of and comments on primary sources.  Sue's article on short cloaks, uses primary sources for information, but her conclusions while based on those primary sources becomes a secondary source.

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