The James Watt 2019 Project aims to support new research into the life and work of James Watt.
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.
The importance of the steam engine to industrial development in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has been well documented and its impact on science, technology and manufacturing continues to be assessed. However, the role played by print culture in discourses regarding the steam engine has not yet been fully considered. This research project looked at the role played by printed material in the dissemination of knowledge concerning the steam engine.
Fortunately for all the Humanities students out there who are uncertain about the career opportunities available post-graduation, the University of Birmingham’s ‘Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme’ offers a five-week window into the world of professional academia which demystifies a lot of the uncertainties about academic careers by going beyond the lectures, seminars and essay deadlines that we are already used to.
James Watt was a man of the Enlightenment. His multifaceted thinking and doing can be interpreted under the maxim that scientific knowledge and its dissemination was the key to prompting change in the world. One way that Watt shared that enlightened knowledge was through his prolific letter writing. By participating in the epistolary exchange of the Republic of Letters, Watt not only aided in the spread of scientific knowledge but also he exemplified the newly refined ways of thinking, speaking, and behaving in this polite cosmopolitan space of the Enlightenment.
This presentation, given at the James Watt Symposium at the University of Birmingham in July 2016, introduced the audience to the provenance and arrangement of the papers, held at Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham.
It aimed to illustrate the different types of records in this collection and the different members of Watt’s family for whom records have survived from his grandfather Thomas (d.1734) to his youngest son, Gregory (1777-1804).
James Watt was born in 1736 at Greenock in Scotland where his father was a ship’s chandler. The business included dealing in and mending navigation instruments, where he learned about the devices by helping to fix some of the mechanisms which were sent for repair. At seventeen he moved to Glasgow as his father’s agent but he also sought training as an instrument maker. His abilities became known to Dr Robert Dick, professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow University who suggested he learn the trade in London. There he secured with some difficulty nine months’ training with an instrument maker.