Virginia Postrel is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. Her latest book is The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World (Basic Books).
Latest from Virginia Postrel
How Bills of Exchange Went from a Way to Bring Textile Proceeds Home to the "Foundation of Modern Commercial Banking"
Many textile merchants wound up as bankers. These useful IOUs were a major reason why.
Somebody had to invent those techniques you learned in elementary school.
Before industrial production, textiles could make excellent currency.
When there's business to be done over long distances, you don't want to depend on a scribe.
But any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature.
Making masks, face shields, and other protective equipment is the bottom-up, COVID-19 version of rolling bandages or knitting socks for the troops.
A generation later, three major themes still resonate.
In 18th century France, wearing the wrong fabric could get you in big trouble.