Anna Kelley (Birmingham), Scouloudi Fellow (1 year)

Threads of History: Mediating the Late Antique and Early Medieval Cotton of Text, Excavation and the Museum

Anna Kelley is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Birmingham completing her dissertation on the early cotton trade under the supervision of Professor Leslie Brubaker. While cotton has recently been the subject of several studies on the development of industry and trade in the post-medieval world, the diffusion of cotton in the late antique and early Islamic periods has received less attention. Textiles were important commodities in the late antique and early medieval economies, yet they rarely receive the attention they deserve due to low levels of preservation. The arid deserts of Egypt and the Levant are exceptions. Cotton was not native to either of these regions, and consequently represents an ideal fibre through which to identify the processes of textile distribution along communication networks. There are two species of Old World cotton that were domesticated in different parts of the world: one in India and one in Africa. Yet it is Indian cotton that has dominated the narrative of cotton use and distribution. By synthesising data from archaeological finds, texts, and textiles held in contemporary collections, Anna’s research compares the differing networks along which both Old World cotton species moved, and challenges this narrative. Through her study of the material remains as well as the texts, Anna’s dissertation tracks the adoption of cotton cultivation and use throughout the first centuries of the first millennium to shed new light on the overlapping networks the formed global trade connections in this period. Her research proposes an integrative framework through which textiles can be used as source material in historical studies. As such, the dissertation includes elements of her broader interests in late antique and medieval communication and trade, the archaeology of movement and space, and art history.

Anna received a BA with a double major in archaeology and English literature from Wesleyan University, a MA in early Islamic archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, and a MLitt in art history and business practice from the University of Glasgow in conjunction with Christie’s Auction House.