Category Archives: 2024: Crafting Legacy. Tracing the Threads of Traditional Craftsmanship

Chinese-European Lecture Series 2024

Crafting Legacy: Tracing the Threads of Traditional Craftsmanship

The making of things to fulfill daily and luxury needs is probably as old as mankind. However, it was only the emergence of industrial mass production that led to the separation between craft object and machine-made object and thus the concept of traditional craftsmanship in contrast to the former came into play. This has by no means led to the frequently invoked death of the traditional crafts though. Craftsmanship, in the sense of unique skills and specialized knowledge through which materials are manipulated, is a universal testament to human ingenuity and cultural heritage that transcends temporal and geographical boundaries. This lecture series delves deep into the heart of traditional craftsmanship, spotlighting questions of knowledge transmission and the pivotal role of networks in sustaining and developing these practices.

Through a panoramic exploration spanning continents and centuries, the lecture series puts the focus on the intricate web of relationships that facilitate the passage of practical knowledge—from master to apprentice, across familial ties, and through vibrant professional networks.

Central to this exploration are the multifaceted networks that underpin traditional craftsmanship: (1) Geographically, how did trade routes and cultural exchanges facilitate the spread of techniques and materials? How did geographical networks shape the evolution of craftsmanship within specific regions, and how did they interact with distant cultures through trade and migration? What role did trade routes and cultural exchanges play in shaping techniques and styles? (2) Interpersonally, how did personal networks within communities foster collaboration and skill-sharing among artisans? How did informal apprenticeships and community networks nurture the growth of traditional crafts? How did the personal networks of artisans intersect with broader institutional frameworks? (3) Institutionally, what institutional structures, such as guilds and workshops, provided support and regulation for craftsmen? How did these institutions and their roles evolve over time?

Yet, amid this rich tapestry of knowledge transmission, lies the elusive challenge of studying tacit knowledge among non-elite artisans. How do we capture and study the nuances of skills passed down through generations, frequently undocumented and deeply ingrained in embodied practices? This lecture series grapples with this dilemma, exploring methodologies and approaches to uncover the practical knowledge embedded within traditional crafts.

We also invite lectures to explore the continuing role and resilience of traditional craftsmanship in the face of modernization and globalization in the present time. What role play cultural initiatives, grassroots movements and digital platforms in the transmission and revitalization of knowledge in the traditional crafts?

The series aims at bringing together approaches from various disciplines exploiting a vast array of sources, including archaeological findings, historical texts, material objects and ethnographic insights, in order to illuminate the socio-economic dynamics that underpin the dissemination of non-elite knowledge.