Associate Professor of History Patricia Tilburg has won a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend Award to work on her book Diligent Muse: Gender, Taste, and the Parisian Workingwoman, 1880-1936.
The $6,000 grant will provide her with two months of uninterrupted work time, including a final research trip to France, to study the lives of the women in question -- garment workers. More than 80,000 women in Paris during this period made their livings as seamstresses, milliners, artificial flower-makers, and other occupations in the huge clothing and garment industry.
"Garment workers being treated as sexual objects is an old trope," Tilburg said.
The elevation of fashion taste as a distinctly French national cultural treasure has contributed over time to myths around the garment trade, Tilburg said, and often the resulting sexualization and objectification of garment workers was used against them for political oppression.
From 2004 through her sabbatical last year, Tilburg has been exploring French archives and music libraries, including those of national museums, unions, law enforcement organizations and fashion houses, to flesh out the story. She has published a number of articles on the topic, in which she incorporates the voices of the women themselves whenever possible.
"Not many 19th-century seamstresses left behind troves of letters that were archived," she said. "Many of the stories I've been able to research come from socialist women's memoirs as they look back on their early days in the garment trade."
Tilburg's NEH Summer Stipend is part of $21.1 million in grants announced in late March for 248 humanities projects.
"NEH grants bring the humanities to life for Americans by helping preserve valuable cultural resources, advancing research, and supporting films and exhibitions that communicate the lessons of history and culture to new audiences," said NEH Chairman William D. Adams.