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Historian of Material Culture


Dr. Cynthia E. McGinnis Riddle Chin is a material culture historian specializing in the dress textiles of British North America & eighteenth-century Europe and the intersections of race, otherness, global exchange, emotion, memory, replicated experience, the body/wearing -- and how human dignity can be preserved through new ways of looking at objects.


Her doctoral dissertation (Georgetown University, 2019) examined one of  Martha Washington's  surviving extant gowns as a global ecosystem of makers and wearers. It confirmed the permeability of the textile market in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world, and presented new evidence of the gown's origin and its enslaved makers.

She is a 2020-21 Research Fellow at the Washington Library in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Publications & Presentations

Cynthia's exhibition reviews and research have been featured in Textile History, The Junto, Washington's Quill (The Washington Papers Project/The University of Virginia), Mount Vernon Magazine, What Weekly Magazine, The Saranac Review, Ellipsis: Literature and Art, The Slush Pile Magazine, The Baltimore Review, and on MountVernon.org.

Her most recent lectures and presentations include The Washington Library, Yale University, and the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C.

She looks forward to presenting at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and at the Omohundro Institute's Annual Conference in 2021 (postponed due to COVID-19).

Current Projects

Current work includes the preparation of a book manuscript based on her doctoral dissertation.

She is also working on an article on how nineteenth-century American women's hereditary societies disenfranchised black Americans, immigrants, and naturalized citizens through the public display of objects selected to represent "true" American ideals and identity.

In an effort to learn more about the mechanics and construction of mid eighteenth-century gowns, she is actively constructing a silk gown based on extant examples, 1750-1759, using period techniques.


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(c) 2020 Cynthia E. Chin. All Rights Reserved.

Top: Portrait of the wife of first cousin 5 times removed Ethan Allen, Frances Montresor (Buchanan Allen) 1744-1826 by John Singleton Copley, 1778.  Public Domain.

Bottom: Portrait of Frances Montresor by John Singleton Copley, 1771. Public Domain.