James Watt Symposium
The University of Birmingham was the venue for an international symposium on James Watt on 28 and 29 July 2016. Organised by the Centre for West Midlands History at the university and funded by History West Midlands Ltd, the event involved academics from Britain and outside, archivists, librarians, museum professionals and researchers, who presented the state of existing knowledge in 2016 on James Watt and his life and context. It marked the beginning of activities in England to take forward plans to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Watt’s death in 2019.
About 50 people attended on one or both of the days: including postgraduate and undergraduate students and individuals who had made a contribution in areas of Watt’s expertise: science, technology and engineering. There were representatives from the Scottish heritage sector and Newcomen – the International Society for the History of Engineering and Technology. The event was completed by a reception at Assay Office Birmingham: an organisation originally founded in 1773 to assay (test) and hallmark precious metal items. This gave an opportunity to see its collections, including archives, rare books and the extensive silver collection. Plans for the future were also explored in a discussion between the participants at the symposium.
The event encouraged the sharing knowledge and ideas, established working relationships and planned activities for the future. These included:
Shaping the features of the website: ‘James Watt 2019’ to provide a source for information about Watt, a means of linking individuals and partner organisations and a forum for publicising activities and research.
Planning two publications: an academic collection of symposium essays and a book for the general public. The latter will be published by History West Midlands Ltd.
Identifying new research agendas: for example on Watt and his colleagues; his mental world including his political and social ideas; his family and domestic life; the contributions of James Watt junior; Watt and his impact on the environment; steam technology and print culture; remembrance and memorialisation and the marketing of Watt as an icon.
Holding a major conference on Watt to be held in August 2019 at the University of Birmingham on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his death.
Exploring ways of linking the heritage and academic sectors through projects, grant applications, research sponsorship and workshops.
Creating impact outside of the academic world via knowledge transfer and exchange between academics, heritage professionals and members of the public.
Dr Malcolm Dick