Conference organizers:
Anne Goldgar, University of Southern California
Matt Kavaler, University of Toronto

Craft and Crafting in the Early Modern World


Friday & Saturday, May 3 & 4, 2023

Huntington Library
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA
Ahmanson Classroom

Notions of craft and crafting have become central to the humanities in the past twenty years, even as their implications have come under increasing scrutiny, and the very definition of these terms has been revisited. The philosopher Richard Sennett has explored crafting as an essential human activity, relating individuals to their environment. Sennett has stressed that the transference of craft techniques from one medium to another is a significant aspect of innovation. The historian Pamela Smith has understood crafting as an epistemological enterprise, a way of knowing the world and its interface with humankind. The anthropologist Alfred Gell has explored the sense of “enchantment” or magic that obtains when the manufacture of extremely skillful craft cannot be readily understood. And the curator Namita Gupta Wiggers has called attention to craft as performance within the “craftscape.”

People craft artworks and utilitarian objects. But texts and musical compositions and performances can also be seen as crafted entities. Feminist crafting and the practice of “craftivism” subvert traditional aesthetic categories, patriarchal hierarchies, and preconceptions about artistic authority. Religious identities and beliefs can likewise be crafted. The act of crafting can be material or immaterial, its products aesthetic, intellectual, social, or political, and the protean nature of the idea of craft—as skill, as knowledge, as profession, as deceit, as performance, among others—can be tracked through its uses in the English language: stagecraft, statecraft, witchcraft, and, in Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields’s influential formulation, racecraft.

How was skilled making defined, classified, valued (or unvalued), and socially organized in the early modern period? How were skills of craft acquired, maintained, transmitted, kept secret, forgotten, or suppressed? How do the products of crafting bear witness to their creation? What power structures (of class, gender, race, sexuality, religion, and imperialism) lie behind the notions of craft and how are the products of crafting treated?

This is a joint conference of the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute and the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies at the University of Toronto.