Indigo fermentation vat ready for dyeing. Photo taken in Hyderabad by Moody Chetananand.

Working Group (2021-2024)

Epistemologies of Craft: The Role of Material Innovation in Making Color Expertise

This project aims at reconstructing color-making practices in India and Europe and hereby pursues a double goal: it will massively enrich our knowledge of nineteenth- and twentieth-century craft color-making practices and will also contribute new insights to the growing discussion of how to grasp and understand craft knowledge in its historical, epistemological, and social dimensions. The project starts from the observation that embodied expertise remains essential and thriving both in craft knowledge in the Global South, with serious production for a global market, and also has contributed to chemical manufacturing processes in laboratories and modern production sites. In combining history of science/technology and STS approaches, the project aims at bringing that global view strongly into the discussions about the nature of craft knowledge and hence also in the debate of a general history of knowledge. Through focusing on the specific craft of color making in India, it will make original contributions to standard chemical dye histories, both by adding a cross-regional perspective and, at the same time, by highlighting the role of practitioners. The project will reach its goals through three specific studies: (1) a detailed study of mordant dyeing, as its practices were transmitted through texts and samples from India to Europe in the nineteenth century, (2) an analysis of craft user innovation in India at the arrival of European chemical dyes, through the intervention of dancer, designer, and producer Rukmini Devi Arundale, and (3) an active extension of recent and older discourses and analytical resources on how to grasp and understand craft knowledge and its epistemological dynamics.