‘Craft’ brings to mind the medieval artisan. That specie of humanity made almost everything by hand. Books were hand written and ‘illuminated’ with illustrations and ornament. Cathedrals, town-halls, fortifications and houses too were built by hand. A cathedral’s master-builder used templates, a compass, scaffolding, chisels and saws. Gothic building technology differed little from the craft used, a thousand years before, with which the large temples of the Mediterranean were built. Work of the Medieval craftsman was made a fetish by an important Anglophone splinter of the Romantic era called the Arts and Crafts. The Arts and Crafts movement, lasting between the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, came about as reaction to the Industrial Revolution. The founders of Arts and Crafts felt that the mass production of things represented a moral problem. Pugin’s 1836 Contrasts was the first polemic for the Medieval artisan.1Thirteen years later Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture,2 lends an explicitly moral sense to the Gothic. Intending to revitalize the artisan’s hand William Morris founds Morris, Marshall, Faulkner. This and his later firms become successful institutions in the Arts and Crafts. All important participants in the Arts and Crafts had been moved by threats that the Industrial Revolution brought to craft. To that effect most participants within the Arts and Crafts, in the United Kingdom, were active socialists.3 Morris, in 1885, became editor of influential Socialist periodical Commonweal. In an 1888 edition of Fortnightly Review Morris summarizes this concern: “…so long as man allows his daily work to be mere unrelieved drudgery he will seek happiness in vain. I say further that the worst tyrants of the days of violence were but feeble tormentors compared with those Captains of Industry who have taken the pleasure of work away from the workmen. Furthermore I feel absolutely certain that handicraft joined to certain other conditions, of which more presently, would produce the beauty and the pleasure in work … and if that be so, and this double pleasure of lovely surroundings and happy work could take the place of the double torment of squalid surroundings and wretched drudgery, have we not good reason for wishing, if it might be, that handicraft should once more step into the place of machine-production.4 Forty years before Morris and the Arts and Crafts was the first important fissure within the Industrial Revolution

Nedd Ludd, engraving 1812
Ned Ludd, 1812

called Luddism. Named after Ned Ludd, a mythic textile worker and symbol for the everyman of craft, Luddisim today indicates a fear of progress and technological advance. The Luddites, however, were not against ‘technology’ as a principal goal but sought to preserve a world of meaning and the skills of a craft. Their revolt occurred within the second decade of the nineteenth century. These were difficult times for Britain: America had recently won its independence; the Napoleonic and Anglo-American 1812 wars were in full swing. Further, directly affecting the textile workers, was the considerable effort that Parliament put into legislating the suppression of craft and labor organizing. These series of laws, called the Combination Acts, were put into effect in face of new organizations inspired by the French Revolution.5 Parallel to the pressures that these laws launched upon British Craftworkers were the new efficient, larger and better organized factories. Finally, principally because of the recent wars the British economy was under stress. All this convened to make the Luddite revolt all but inevitable. With the introduction of mechanized textile mills, workers had to give up the autonomous relationship to their work as well as carefully developed skills. That pre-industrialized relationship to fabric and loom allowed them to take pleasure in the work-at-hand and a world of associations that made their craft and lives meaningful. The new skills and relationships developed with the ‘frames,’ of the industrial mill may not have been entirely without pleasure or significance but the production and craft of fabric was no longer controlled by an individual. Instead, that work and its compass of associations was controlled by the mill. The Luddites were organized principally in northern English Midlands. Their first protests occurred in 1811. The latest appearance 1817 is associated with end of the Swing Riots. These riots involved the use of agricultural machinery rather than looms and it was regarding the Swing Riots that William Cobbett wrote his sympathetic “Letter to the Luddites” (1816).


William Cobbett, 1763 – 1835

In their protests they smashed new mechanical looms, set fire to wool and cotton mills and in 1812, Luddites caused the death of William Horsfall, owner of Ottiwells Mill, Marsden.6 In 1812 the Frame Breaking Act was introduced to parliament. This new legislation called ‘frame breaking’ industrial sabotage and made it a capital crime.7 Under the new law fourteen Luddites were hanged in 1813. These measures had their intended effect. While isolated frame-breaking surfaced here and there after the hangings, there were few important Luddite protests after 1817. Cultural meaning – significance and orientation – rarely, if ever, shifts gradually. Instead, like the shifting plates of the earth’s surface, significance has a subterranean life. Felt as a nag or itch to most of us ‘significance’ will stay underground until, under the right conditions, significance is recognized. The Industrial Revolution erupted into the light of the early 19th century and became a mode of being, that with some variation, flows into our own time. Within a matter of years the cottage industries of textile making ceased to be and the manufacture of textiles within the United Kingdom became a wholly mechanized. Now, with the new machine looms, fabric would have a predictable and uniform quality and British standards amid the world textile markets would be secure. While new technologies, the frame itself, played an important part in the story of the Luddite revolt – the machines allowed textile work to be industrialized – the real issue was not the mechanism itself but the manner in which people were organized. The new mills shifted control from cottage and or home to the organized factory of largely invisible laborers, technicians, engineers and designers. And, because of new abundant stockpile, the role of the consumer became elevated. Though invented almost a century earlier the mechanized loom was used until the beginning of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The mechanized loom, being made to weave particular patterns using perforated cards, had been invented in 1725 by Basile Bouchon. The idea was improved upon twice before the machine was able to cause ire among the Luddites. In 1728 Jean Baptiste Falcon increased the functional range of the perforated card by rearranging punches within it.8 Then, in 1745 Jacques Vaucanson improved the loom’s mechanical operability and connected the loom to a power source. Known for creating life-like automated creatures Vaucanson’s involvement lends an uncanny cast to the history of mechanization. Foremost among them a duck that, after appearing to eat, defecated a metal bead.9 Some forty years later, in 1801, Joseph-Marie Jacquard improves upon Vaucanson with the mechanized loom that propelled the Industrial Revolution and the Luddite Revolt. Jacquard improves operability of the looms. More important, his improved punch cards used a binary pattern of zeros (off – no thread) and ones (on – thread) within the card to select fabric. Later, mid nineteenth century American mills would compete with those in Britain. There, beginning with the mills of the Northeast States, the story of American labor would become no less dramatic than that in the United Kingdom. In the immediate context of early Industrialized England the Luddite revolts were a failure. Lives were lost; skills, livelihoods and traditions were marginalized. However, the plan fact is that the Luddites, representing a tear in mechanization offer questions and hold strong in the imagination of anyone interested in the meaning of our working hours. Rarely lost to writers on the history of technology is that Bouchon’s perforated card and the mechanized loom are direct ancestors to the modern computer. Jacquard’s binary card was the inspiration for Charles Babbage’s Difference Machine circa 1812 – the first modern computer. Then, because of a need for speedier calculations required for the U. S. Census at the end of the 19th century, Herman Hollerith offers a computer punch card. The cards and his new machine, the Hollerith desk, is ready for the 1890 census. Hollerith starts, Tabulating Machine Company. This company evolves into IBM.10 Almost every type of work, in recent years, has been changed in significant measure by the computer. An architect’s relation to the drawing board has completely changed. Many architectural offices boast of being “paperless.” Graphic design has become almost entirely digital. And, now, we are acutely aware that our world economy is tied to speedy ungraspable computer transactions. Because we the ability to transform the world around at an increasing rate world-collapse and transformation erupts more frequently. Still, with the same abilities that we use to transform the world of production we can question those transformations.? This is what the Arts and Crafts movement did. On the other hand, Modernism – the name given to this age of mechanization and its cast of rapidly repeating disruptions – has imbedded within it a well developed tradition of skepticism. Modern skepticism folds upon ‘disruption’ which often occurs as ‘progress.’ Artists, poets and philosophers have an established place within that critical mirror of progress. Few of us do not have reflections, nostalgia or anxiety about our architectures, our graphic work and what and how we eat under quickly changing technologies. We are aware that something changes when we shift from drawing by hand to drawing with pixels. While we appreciate the flexibility and time savings available to us when we compose text on a computer there really is something we miss about the imprint of lead on paper. The very broadest impact of technology and industrialization is probably bound up in food. Everyone eats. And, there is – presumably – an important evolutionary reason why eating, sex and the atmosphere of our working hours are bound up in pleasure or distaste. When we make a meal by hand with vegetables of the garden and wine with our local grapes we are involved in a technology and a process where pleasure is never far away from our concerns. There are some good reasons that Calvin and the Protestants as well as other religious traditions are suspicious of pleasure. With Calvin the emphasis seemed to have focused on personal pleasures that left us to forget the broader community. Self satisfaction is the Calvinists sin. By focusing on ourselves, being hedonistic libertarians, we are in danger of forgetting larger communities dwell among us. Our pleasures, however, are not to be dismissed as marginal or prurient. Pleasures always have a decisive bearing on what we care about. And care, in the Heideggerian sense, shines fourth as significance – indeed being – when we engage in work that brings us pleasure. If we have practiced and to any extent, mastered an ability to, say, draw by hand we do so effortlessly. That effortless skillful craft-work brings us pleasure as well as meaning. This connection between, craft, pleasure, and meaning will, in emphasis, be the topic of these essays.


  1. Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Contrasts: or, A parallel between the noble edifices of the middle ages, and corresponding buildings of the present day, shewing the present decay of taste. Salisbury, 1836; 2nd edition, London, 1841. See also online edition at: http://books.google.com/books?id=jjdIAQAAIAAJ&dq=pugin+contrasts&source=gbs_navlinks_s
  2. Ruskin, John. The Seven Lamps of Architecture. 1849. See also online edition at: http://archive.org/details/1920sevenlampsof00ruskuoft
  3. Chris Nineham of the Socialist Review (UK) describes socialist foundation of William Morris’s perspective: http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/sr196/nineham.htm. (last accessed 2 Feburary 2020) For a concise article that shows the link between the political philosophies Marx and the Arts and Crafts, especially of England download David Bates student essay from 2003, Indiana University, Pennsylvania: www.iup.edu/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=37667 (last accessed 2 Febuary 2020)
  4. Fortnightly Review, November 1888. Available online at http://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1888/handcrft.htm
  5. Among the threats were included: the London Corresponding Society which advocated universal voting rights among male British citizens, secret ballots and annual parliaments. This organization, banned in 1794, was composed principly of craftsworkers including: coblers, textile workers, tailors, watchmakers, and mathimatical insturment makers. According to Wkipedia, most of its members were Deists. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Corresponding_Society
  6. Randall, Adrian. Before The Luddites: Custom, Community and Machinery in the English Woolen Industry. Oxford University Press. New York, 2004. pp. 254.
  7. References in the litterature refer to similar craftworker rebelions and laws enacted in the early part of the 18th century. Penalties for participation in the reblions included deportation to America or Australia. The law is said to have been enacted in 1721. This date coorisponds to the Calico laws, which prohibit the importation of Indian printed cotton into Britain but no mention to machine breaking.
  8. Unamed writer. History of Computers, hardware, software, internet…http://history-computer.com/Dreamers/Bouchon.html  (last accessed 2 February 2020)
  9. A reproduction of Vaucanson’s duck: http://vimeo.com/14904318. See also, from the Guardian Wood, Gaby. Living Dolls : A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life. (extract):  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/feb/16/extract.gabywood
  10. Kopplin, John. Computer Science Lab. An Illustrated History of Computers Part 2. http://www.computersciencelab.com/ComputerHistory/HistoryPt2.htm (last accessed 2 February 2020)

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