Forgetting the Hand: Wedgwood, Sèvres, and the Industrial Fate of Skill

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Forgetting the Hand: Wedgwood, Sèvres, and the Industrial Fate of Skill

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This dissertation explores how our modern perspective of skill developed from the 1760s to the 1840s in Western Europe. As industrial capitalism became bolstered by changes in design, business practice, international commerce, and mechanization, skill became conceptually jettisoned from the specific experiences of individual people, abstracted into industrial objects, economic categories, and physical force. This abstraction has subsequently caused a form of cultural forgetting in industrial modernity in which we, the heirs of this process, fail to appreciate the fundamental connection of skills to our essential humanity. Through the use of case studies of Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, England and the French Royal Porcelain Manufactory at Sèvres, each chapter illuminates skill’s historical complexity with relation to design, manufacture, management, industrial promotion, and technological development. This dissertation uses an analysis of private letters, printed pamphlets, royal correspondence, and ceramic objects themselves to examine the hand skills hidden within neoclassical ceramics, the skills of shrewdness utilized by Wedgwood and Sèvres, the debated notion of skill surrounding the Anglo-French Commercial Treaty of 1786, and the cultural discourses on skill’s role in mechanical progress. This research draws on recent scholarly characterizations of “the mindful hand” and “artisanal epistemology,” but moves beyond them to argue that skill, and the people who embodied it, cannot be defined by categories of knowledge.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2020. Major: History of Science and Technology. Advisor: Jennifer Alexander. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 362 pages.

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Studelska, Dustin. (2020). Forgetting the Hand: Wedgwood, Sèvres, and the Industrial Fate of Skill. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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