Cræft An inquiry into the origins and true meaning of traditional crafts

Alex Langlands

Book - 2018

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2nd Floor 909/Langlands Due Sep 13, 2021
New York : W.W. Norton & Company 2018.
First American edition
Item Description
Includes index.
Physical Description
344 pages ; 25 cm
Main Author
Alex Langlands (author)
  • Defining cræft
  • Making hay
  • Sticks and stones
  • Grenjađarstađur
  • The skep-making beekeeper
  • Taming the wilds
  • Weft and warp
  • Under thatch
  • The shoe and the harness
  • Seed and sward
  • The oxna mere
  • Fire and earth
  • The craft of digging
  • Baskets and boats.
Review by Booklist Reviews

What starts with a scythe becomes a research quest for archaeologist and medieval historian Langlands. Like the would-be homesteaders of the 1970s back-to-the-land movement, who eschewed urban industrialization, Langlands fled the city for a quiet country cottage. His personal adventure became a professional pursuit of craft, or cræft, a word and its meanings Langlands explores through a succession of microhistories. Before you can wrap your mind around the expansive definition for craft as it's broadly applied today, you must reach back 1,000 years. The Old English cræft was used to describe an individual's specialized knowledge, rather than the item crafted, implying more reliable functionality over today's obsessive detail or uniqueness. Why are we so dazzled by craft? Handmade goods, locally produced in small quantities, do trump mass-market offerings when it comes to both hearts and wallets of buyers. Whether it's the small-batch hot sauce or the rage for craft beer, today's consumer wants tradition, quality, and artisan everything. Langlands offers a fascinating history of what's setting trends today. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Inspired by several BBC historical re-creation series including Victorian Farm (2008), which Langlands (lecturer, Swansea Univ.; The Ancient Ways of Wessex) participated in, this book dissects medieval British cræft as a lost amalgam of "knowledge, power, skill." The intersection of the author's archaeological background and love of historical farming yields a fascinating analysis of the disappearing arts of wattlework, hedgerow maintenance, thatch rooves, pond making, pottery, and basket weaving. "To be cræfty is all about resourceful living and about going back to the basics: a mindful life achieved through beautiful simplicity." It's not just about how you replicate the arts in the modern sense, but what we can learn about past civilizations of Great Britain. The enduring virtues of increasingly obscure tools such as scythes, pitchforks, skeps (straw beehives) and hedging hooks are extolled. Langlands isn't only writing about research, he's actually farming in his daily life with these lost arts. He's a living experiment, just as he depicted in his television work. VERDICT An engaging read imparting a wealth of historical knowledge with a touch of infotainment. With the current interest in authentic arts and handmade goods, this unparalleled scholarly work will appeal to both specialists and casual readers.—Jessica Bushore, Xenia, OH Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Archeologist and BBC presenter Langlands brings his approachable voice and unique firsthand experience to this exploration of the history behind traditional crafts. Despite its modern usage, craft—or cræft, in Old English—is about more than just making; it also connotes the knowledge and resourcefulness needed to adapt in the face of changing materials and circumstances. Through a series of short histories focused on such crafts as thatching, weaving, and leather making, Langlands recovers craft as a model for a more engaged, resilient, and sustainable way of life. Interlacing each history with accounts of his own attempts to practice traditional crafts, Langlands reveals the intricate balancing acts required by craft processes while also reflecting broadly on human interactions with landscapes. Langlands makes a strong, if sometimes unnuanced, argument against the mindlessness of modern consumption, urging readers to prioritize long-term use over profitability and disposability. In the ingenuity of craft, he sees not dead tradition but rather a way forward for an uncertain, unstable world. Sustained by Langland's clear yet lyrical prose, this book is sure to interest readers concerned with history, human know-how, and the future of this Earth. Illus. (Jan.) Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A series of minihistories trace the skill and labor of ancient craftspeople, connecting the present with ancient past to reveal the ingenuity and remarkable capacity of human survival.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Combining deep history with scientific analyses and personal anecdotes, an archaeologist and medieval historian searches for the lost meaning of craft, taking us into the ancient world of traditional crafts where we will be connected with our human past, our sense of place and our extraordinary capacity to survive in the harshest of landscapes.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Author Alexander Langlands is an archaeologist, medieval historian, and a practitioner of many traditional crafts. In this book for general readers, students, and scholars, he celebrates the beauty, simplicity, and resourcefulness of traditional day-to-day crafts from throughout Europe, which were common during the age before mechanization but are now in danger of being lost. He brings readers along as he spins wool, tans hides, tends bees, harvest crops using traditional manual tools, and makes beer. The book contains b&w decorative illustrations. Annotation ©2018 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Review by Publisher Summary 4

An archaeologist takes us into the ancient world of traditional crafts to uncover their deep, original histories.

Review by Publisher Summary 5