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8th Annual Van Gelderen Lecture: Sasha Coles, “The Great Silk Experiment: Silkworms, Mulberry Trees, and Women Workers in Mormon Country, 1850s-1910s”

March 14, 2021 @ 4:00 pm

A black-and-white image of a group of women gathered around a pile of foliage.

UCSB History Associates presents the eighth annual Van Gelderen Graduate Student Lecture, this year given by Dr. Sasha Coles.

From the 1850s to the early 1900s, Latter-Day Saint (or Mormon) women in both rural and urban Great Basin settlements planted mulberry trees, raised silkworms, and attempted to produce silk cocoons, thread, and cloth of a high-enough quality to use and sell. By most measurements, they failed. Homegrown silk was time-consuming, onerous, and practically impossible to profit from, primarily due to superior imported goods from Europe and Asia. Even so, this talk will show how the homegrown silk industry provided Mormon women with a venue to make their own money, shape transnational labor and commodity markets, and understand ever-changing environmental conditions. In these and other ways, Mormon women used silk production and consumption to resolve tensions between economic cooperation and competition, market isolation and integration, and religious exceptionalism and American citizenship.

Our speaker, Sasha Coles, defended her UCSB Ph.D. dissertation successfully in February 2021. She received her M.A. from UCSB in 2015 and her B.A. from Arizona State University in 2013. Her publications include two articles in historical journals, and she has developed a website on the Walt Disney theme parks.

The Zoom link for this year’s Van Gelderen Lecture is https://ucsb.zoom.us/j/6855143149.