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In the aftermath of the 1899-1902 South African War the British liberal reformer Emily Hobhouse (1860-1926) founded the Boer Home Industries, a series of spinning, weaving and lace schools supported by British and South African donors and intended to replenish domestic textiles destroyed in the war. This scheme was meant to provide industry for unemployed Boer women, symbolise co-operation and reconciliation between Boer and Briton in South Africa, and promote the self-sufficiency of the new South African nation.   In this presentation I wish to explore Hobhouse's attempt at inventing a tradition of Boer textiles in the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, focusing on some of her early designs for 'Boer tweed' and lace, her use of natural dyes from the veld, as well as her training of Boer women in the obsolete technology of spinning wheels, weaving looms and lace bobbins.  In thinking about how these were made, exhibited and subsequently conserved in South Africa, I am interested in understanding the role of these schemes in the cultural nationalism of the 1920s and in particular how their production fits into the racial politics of this era.  I will argue that the making of lace in rural farms was a literal attempt to make whiteness at a time of rising fears of black independence and the racial degeneration of poor whites.  

Rebecca Gill’s research interests cover the history of humanitarian organisations and peace activism in the context of British internationalism in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Her most recent research has concentrated on the work of Emily Hobhouse in South Africa (with Helen Dampier and Cornelis Muller).  She is currently collaborating on a book project on Humanitarian Handicrafts which explores the history of artisanal textile production in humanitarian schemes in wartime hospitals, workshops and refugee camps.  

All welcome- this session is free to attend, but booking in advance is required.