Correction March 12, 2021: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Dr. Pittman’s title as the “Rowland Distinguished Director” rather than “Pleasant Rowland Textile Specialist and Research Director”. This article has been corrected.
A cultural historian of the early modern period, Dr. Pitman will advance scholarly and educational connections with the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection in the Center for Design and Material Culture.
Dr. Sophie Pitman will join the School of Human Ecology (SoHE) in fall 2021 to further the development of collection-related resources and curation of the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery through curatorial research and programming related to the collection, teaching and educational programs, and outreach to users both on and beyond campus.
“Fine silks, tiny ancient woven fragments, bright sparkling accessories, and carefully quilted blankets—the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection is filled with treasures from diverse traditions and cultures that can teach us so much about the past and inspire future generations,” says Dr. Pitman. “But what makes the collection truly special is that it is housed at the heart of UW–Madison’s dynamic research community. I see my role as to seize this unparalleled opportunity to develop innovative ways of studying textiles using cutting-edge interdisciplinary methods developed within the university, in collaboration with Wisconsin’s vibrant community of makers and textile enthusiasts, to give the collection the international prominence it deserves.”
Pitman is a cultural historian of the early modern period and currently a postdoctoral research fellow on the Refashioning the Renaissance Project, funded by the European Research Council. She holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge and was a postdoctoral scholar on the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia University. She has published on material culture, clothing, textiles, sumptuary law, and issues of luxury and identity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and is interested in remaking as a methodology. She also collaborates with museums and collections, works with craftspeople, writes for newspapers and magazines, and consults with film producers.
“Dr. Pitman brings both broad-ranging curiosity and remarkable tenacity to the study of textiles,” says Dr. Marina Moskowitz, faculty director of the Collection and SoHE’s Lynn and Gary Mecklenburg Chair in Textiles, Material Culture, and Design. “She seeks to understand as much as possible about any given artifact—what its materials are and how these were acquired; who made it and how they did so; how it was used; and importantly, what it meant to all of these participants. In order to answer these questions, she has built upon her excellent qualifications as a historian by seeking out new skills from scientific analysis to sewing and collaborated productively across disciplines and sectors.”
“I am thrilled that Dr. Pitman will be joining us. Her interdisciplinary approach to the study of textiles will honor and extend the hands-on, research-focused methods pioneered at UW by Professor Helen Louise Allen,” says Dr. Sarah Carter, visiting executive director of the Center for Design and Material Culture. “Under Dr. Pitman’s direction our students will understand the study of textiles as connected to nearly every academic field—from history and anthropology to computer science and horticulture—placing textiles and investigations of their creative making and remaking at the center of a range of intellectual questions.”
“Each visitor brings with them new questions and ways of looking,” adds Dr. Pitman, “so I look forward to connecting new audiences with these textiles in order to reveal the collection’s complex, compelling stories in a way that honours its founder, does justice to its objects, and brings it to the wider world.”
The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection is one of the nation’s largest university-held textile collections with over 13,000 textile artifacts spanning 16 centuries and 108 countries. As a teaching collection, thousands of its pieces are available for public study and loaned to outside exhibitions, and more than 9,000 objects are viewable online. The collection was founded with a bequest from the estate of Professor Helen Louise Allen, who had taught in SoHE from 1927 until her death in 1968. She pioneered historical and anthropological perspectives in the study of the textile arts and herself traveled widely to collect more than 4,000 pieces that supported her teaching and research.