Watt 2019

Category: Research Projects


The inventor, engineer and industrialist James Watt died on 25 August 1819. Therefore 2019 marks the bicentenary of his death.

The importance of the steam engine after James Watt’s pioneering activities has been well documented and its impact on science, technology and manufacturing continues to be assessed.  However, the role played by print culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in representing, explaining and promoting this technology, has not been explored.  This project will identify and examine how print culture was utilised by manufacturers, educators and commentators.   

Research will identify the relevant primary sources held in repositories to support further projects on the relationship between print culture and the steam engine.  The initial investigation will examine the advertising strategies employed by the firm of Boulton and Watt to disseminate information about their products and widen their customer base, together with the methods of transmitting information through intellectual, scientific and educational networks. The project will then identify how the steam engine was represented in popular culture, including newspaper reports, advertisements, science publications, trade and manufacturing directories, arts and science encyclopaedias, early published biographies of Watt and his successors and histories of the steam engine. Material is available in the Cadbury Research Library; Library of Birmingham;  Birmingham Assay Office; Birmingham Museums; Science Museum; Black Country Living Museum; Royal Society; National Archives, Ironbridge Museum Archives; British Newspaper Archive; British Library.

Members involved in this research

Dr Malcolm Dick

Dr Kate Isles