The Atlantic

The Forgotten Everyday Origins of ‘Craft’

A new book explores the fascinating medieval history of a word whose current meaning has little to do with skill or labor.
Source: W. W. Norton

In his new book Craeft, the archaeologist and BBC presenter Alexander Langlands offers a fascinating and surprisingly relevant dive into a subject that might seem niche to many—the origins of traditional crafts in medieval Europe. The reviews, by and large, have been enthusiastic. But some of the article headlines present a curious opening argument for the work. A short write-up in The Guardian is introduced, “Craeft review—not just a load of old corn dollies.” In The New York Times Book Review, a thoughtful piece by the renowned graphic designer Michael Bierut is similarly branded, “Before Glitter and Glue Sticks, Craeft.”

You’ve probably encountered this cliché before: Something in the news—perhaps —is “not your grandma’s knitting.” The word “craft” can seem to demand an apology or clarification: a reminder that no serious, technically accomplished endeavor should ever be confused with the homespun. For decades, academics have explored the ways in which traditionally’s introduction, Langlands quotes the late, eminent furniture designer David Pye, who because of this divide craft as “a word to start an argument with.”

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