About this Project

“Handwork”—broadly construed to include farm work, construction, as well as other crafts and skills that produce material objects—relied on forms of knowing in order to train the hand to perform the work. This “knowing,” which may be tacit or explicit, individually embodied or widely shared, constitutes the focus of our investigation. We apply the concept of “text” to the patterns and conventions that fix the processes by which work is accomplished. Text in this sense has several forms, including gestural, visual, verbal, and written. Much of the research on handwork in Western scholarship addresses European societies. This 2014-2016 project will examine the interaction of knowing and doing, text and labor, in premodern and modern societies in Asia extending from Japan to the Near East. The data available is extensive, and the cultural experience of Asian societies offers new perspectives for comparison with existing Europe-based studies. We plan to invite leading scholars from several disciplines (South Asian, East Asian, and Middle Eastern Studies, Anthropology, History of Science and Technology) to Chicago for a series of individual month-long visits, graduate workshops, and symposia on the relationship between Asian textual traditions and Asian handwork.


How a Chinese Manuscript Written 2,300 Years Ago Ended Up in Washington

June 8, 2018

In this New York Times article, Faculty Fellow Donald Harper (Knowing and Doing: Text and Labor in Asian Handwork) considers the Chu Silk Manuscript as a reminder of the complex relations between China and the United States over the past century.

Neubauer Collegium’s new research projects to tackle complex global questions

February 3, 2014

From the impact of a new government health insurance program in India to the profound questions surrounding death and end-of-life care, the 15 new research projects supported by the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago aim to provide new ways of studying some of the most complex questions facing contemporary society.


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