Early in the Spring 2022 semester, the students enrolled in Antebellum America touched their burlap for the first time at the ruins for the former state capitol building-turned-female college. Such a site pushes our thinking about the complex stories concerning a modernizing South.

On the eve of Slow Art Day, April 2, 2022, 18 students enrolled in “Antebellum America,” a class in the University of Alabama’s Department of History, shared their burlap pop-up installation April 1st at UA’s Gorgas House Museum , the oldest structure on campus.

The burlap pieces displayed at Gorgas House will be reconnected to other panels, resulting in a 63-foot piece that will be dropped at 3:00pm April 27 — the last day of class — from the third floor of the former Woods Hall quad on UA’s campus.

The story behind the burlap tapestry was digitally shared on Gorgas’ websites April 2nd to tie in with a global community. Current students, faculty, staff and other passersby are invited to contemplate slowing down, a needed idea in these trying times. The tapestry also offers a chance to ponder what textiles represent in a modernizing country in the years leading to the Civil War and what textiles mean today when we celebrate all things “handmade” and what Koritha Mitchell labels as “homemade citizenship”?

Passersby might also contemplate the experiences of University of Alabama librarian Amelia Gorgas who may have sewed from time to time while juggling many jobs for this campus. She may have still sat down on the porch at the present-day Gorgas House. Our thoughts may lead to the enslaved artisans, including women, who also sewed out of necessity and maybe even survival, as well as their notions of belonging, dignity, and citizenship. No matter what, some will doubtless see the sense of community that was created because of the students’ group effort. 

For more information about the class’s process, visit Dr. Green’s blog postings between January 1, 2022 and April 30, 2022.

Bibliography

Camp, Stephanie M.H. Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation.  South Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Green, Hilary N. “The Hallowed Grounds Project

Green, Sharony. “Educating Young Women Before and After the Civil War: Alabama’s Female Academies,” Alabama Heritage, Summer 2018, 37-43.

Jabour, Anya. Scarlett’s Sisters: Young Women in the Old South. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Jeffers, Honorée Fanonne. The Age of Phillis. Middletown, Wesleyan University Press, 2020.

Miles, Tiya. All She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake. New York: Random House, 2021.

Scott, James C. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1997.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of An American Myth. New York, Vintage, 2001.

Wiggins, Sarah. “Sarah Gayle and Violence in the Old Southwest,” Alabama Heritage, Winter 2015, pp. 20-27.

Special thanks to Brandon Thompson, Director, UA Gorgas House Museum; Rebecca Johnson, Communications Specialist; Camilla Canty, Gorgas House docent; the University of Alabama Departments of History and Department of Art and Art History; Beth Sheehan; Dr. Hilary Green; Dr. John Beeler; Will Hawkins, Director, Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society; Marla Scott, Morta Riggs and Kayla Key, Department of History’s cherished front office staff; and the incredible students enrolled in Dr. Green’s Antebellum America and American Civilization Since 1865 classes in Spring 2022.

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