|Ms. Sylvia Houghteling is a Ph.D. candidate in the history of art at Yale University, Connecticut. Her dissertation, “When Fabrics Lost their Figures: The Politics of South Asian Cloth, 1630-1730,” examines changes that occurred in the textile pattern vocabulary when South Asian fabric became a global commodity. Her studies at Yale have been funded by a Beinecke Scholarship Program, university fellowships and the Yale Center for British Art. Before coming to Yale, Houghteling was granted a Lionel de Jersey Harvard-Cambridge Fellowship to pursue an M.Phil. in history at the University of Cambridge, U.K. under the supervision of Sir Christopher A. Bayly. Her master’s thesis examined the place of crafts and weaving within early twentieth-century swadeshi activism in Kolkata. Ms. Houghteling graduated summa cum laude in history and literature from Harvard University, Massachusetts in 2006. Her research interest in textiles also has a practical side. Prior to beginning her Ph.D., she studied fashion design and weaving in London, Denmark, Guatemala and Laos.
Ms. Houghteling’s Fulbright research project, “Trade Patterns: The Mercantile Aesthetics of South Asian Cloth,” focuses on silk, cotton and woolen textiles that were produced in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal and along the Coromandel Coast. These textiles, including cotton wall-hangings and woven silk robes, then circulated throughout South Asia and the world. At the turn of the eighteenth century, textile designs featuring the human figure gave way to floral ornamentation. At this moment of heightened mercantile activity and shifting political alliances, she argues that textiles were the primary medium for expressing social and political meaning. Rather than mere decoration, therefore, changes to the pattern vocabulary can tell us stories about the public sphere.