2023 Annual James McCune Smith Lecture: Dr Jonathan Michael Square

Published: 26 October 2023

Thursday 23 November 2023

Annual James McCune Smith Lecture

Thursday, 23 November 2023, 5.30-7.30pm

Kelvin Hall Lecture Theatre

“We black folks had to wear lowells”: Negro Cloth, Enslaved People, and the Legacy of Lowell Manufacturing

Dr Jonathan Michael Square, Parsons School of Design, New York City, USA

For the 2023 Annual James McCune Smith Lecture, Dr Square will present the first chapter from his forthcoming monograph Negro Cloth: How Slavery Birthed the American Fashion Industry (Duke University Press, 2025), which explores the pivotal role of enslaved individuals in the production and use of “negro cloth”, specifically “Lowell cloth”. This research draws on slave narratives such as those collected by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), delving into the intricate web of the fashion supply chain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Enslaved individuals found a powerful means of self-expression through the creation and wearing of textiles, a recurring theme across the book's chapters. This lecture focuses on the significance of Lowell cloth, a type of textile named after the city in Massachusetts where it was often manufactured. This textile not only highlights the prominence of Lowell as an example of American industrialization, but also underscores the pivotal role of fashion and textiles in understanding the experience of enslaved people.

Dr Jonathan Michael Square is a historian, curator and writer of Afro-Diasporic fashion and visual culture, and Assistant Professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City. Prior to joining Parsons, he was a fellow at the Met Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a Lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard University. Recent curatorial projects include the exhibition Past is Present: Black Artists Respond to the Complicated Histories of Slavery at the Herron School of Art and Design (2022-23). Square founded and directs the renowned digital humanities project Fashioning the Self in Slavery and Freedom. He holds a PhD from New York University, an MA from the University of Texas at Austin, and a BA from Cornell University.

First published: 26 October 2023