The Endangered Material Knowledge Programme, hosted by the British Museum, awards grants to document the traditional skills and practices used in making or using things. Material knowledge is often passed on from person to person and is rarely recorded. As mass-produced objects replace handmade items, many traditional skills are becoming less common.

Grant-funded projects cover a range of objects, from everyday crafts, tools and utensils to special items used for rituals. In a rapidly changing world, knowledge about these objects, and how they shape individuals’ and communities’ lives helps to retain the rich diversity of global culture for future generations.

British Museum experts offer specialist documentation training to project teams. Digital records such as videos, photographs, maps and 3D reconstructions are kept in a local archive so that they are accessible to the community of origin. The British Museum also makes a permanent digital copy of the records freely available online. 

Since it started in 2018, the programme has awarded 85 grants.

The call for applications opens in the autumn with a deadline of January. Details of how to apply are on the programme’s website.

Example projects

Ney artist and craftsman Salih Bilgin playing the ney at his Istanbul workshop

Documenting musical craftsmanship in Turkey

The ney is an end-blown reed-flute which occupies a special place in the artistic tradition of Sufi music in Turkey. There has been a recent revival of interest in the ney, but a shortage of suitable reeds and the difficult circumstances of the people who harvest the reeds threatens the survival of the craft. The programme’s grant will help record the material knowledge systems of reed harvesters in Hatay, and produce films capturing both the skilled ney-making and apprenticeship-style method of ney-music teaching in Istanbul.

The making and performance of Nuosu oil-cloth umbrellas

The making and performance of Nuosu oil-cloth umbrellas

Yellow oil-cloth umbrellas are a traditional handicraft of the Nuosu people in the region of Liangshan, southwest China. The yellow umbrellas are an iconic symbol of Nuosu femininity and are closely associated with Dutzie, the annual torch festival. Only a few craftspeople still make the umbrellas in their traditional strongholds, and state sponsorship of the Dutzie festival has brought with it a push for umbrellas made of cheap alternatives such as nylon. The project will record the process of making the umbrellas and their use in the torch ceremony.