Craft Conference 2019


Studying Traditional Crafts: Goals and Methods in Higher Education

Viljandi, Estonia, November 12–14, 2019

The concepts of tradition and heritage are often associated with preservation of cultural elements from the past. Traditional crafts refer to a combination of patterns, materials, tools, colours – and tacit knowledge acquired from the previous generations through working together, just as one acquires one’s mother tongue. However, any tradition is a result of cultural interaction, adoption to new environments and technological innovations.

In a related way, higher education institutions (HEIs) offering study programs on traditional crafts become increasingly engaged with questions how to preserve and maintain traditional craft knowledge with a future-oriented approach. The academisation of traditional crafts means studying traditional handicraft techniques, carrying out high-quality research in the field and being involved in creative activities. It requires developing new teaching and research methods by combining and integrating specialized expertise in different fields within natural science, humanities and social sciences. However, it brings along many challenges such as economic pressure to adapt to large groups with less contact time; high teachings costs and need for well-equipped labs; balancing between theoretical research and practical training; balancing between tradition and innovation, etc.

Estonian Native Craft Department at University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy celebrates its 25th anniversary with an international conference dedicated to different topics that explore the role of craft studies in higher education. Higher education on traditional crafts provides a framework for discussing tradition as a dynamic cultural process and describing heritage as environmental, cultural and societal assets for the continued development of society in local, national and global perspectives. It empowers people to make intentional decisions about their environment and material culture.

The conference provides an opportunity for workers across this diverse range of fields to communicate with one another around the intersections of traditional crafts and higher education in theory and practice. We invite proposals for presentations that explore the role of craft studies in higher education from several related perspectives (the list of sub-topics is not restricted to them):

  • teaching/learning approaches; changes in the educational models
  • definition of traditional crafts in different countries and contexts
  • social responsibility and knowledge transfer: what we do and what is expected of us
  • integration between science, technology, entrepreneurship and traditional crafts
  • the process of creating a new professional tradition
  • research methods and sources (museum repositories and documenting crafts)
  • diversity and potential of traditional ways of production in the contemporary society
  • professional development opportunities and increasing the level of competence
  • philosophy for the reconstruction and preservation
  • building local identities and doing international cooperation between HEIs



Among the lecturers, there were scholars, teachers, students, and practitioners. Cultural workers such as artists, craftsmen, and designers interested in developing knowledge in native crafts and its position in today’s society will find models and inspiration at this conference. There were individual presentations reflecting the themes proposed above (20 minutes), and shorter poster presentations. 


The Conference took place in Viljandi. The main organiser – Estonian Native Crafts Department at the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy – sees its mission in maintaining and promoting local traditions through preserving/re-inventing inherited skills and crafts techniques and revitalising them in contemporary environments. The department offers study programmes on BA and MA level on Estonian native textiles, construction and metalwork.


The event is supported by base funding for national research at the University of Tartu, Cultural Endowment of Estonia and the Nordic Council of Ministers through Nordplus Higher Education Programme (NPHE-2019/10037 – Higher Education on Craft Traditions NN/2019).