James Watt (1736-1819)

BookJames Watt (1736-1819)

James Watt (1736-1819)

Culture, Innovation and Enlightenment


January 28th, 2020



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'High quality chapters, convincingly argued and clearly written, offering new insights into Watt's life and work.’
Professor Christine MacLeod, University of Bristol

James Watt (1736-1819) was a pivotal figure of the Industrial Revolution. His career as a scientific instrument maker, inventor and engineer was developed in Scotland, his land of birth. His subsequent national and international significance as a scientist, technologist and businessman was formed in the Birmingham area. There, his partnership with Matthew Boulton and the intellectual and personal support of other members of the Lunar Society network, such as Erasmus Darwin, James Keir, William Small and Josiah Wedgwood, enabled him to translate his improvements in steam technology into efficient machines. His pumping and rotative steam engines represent a summit of technological achievement in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. This is the traditional picture of James Watt. After his death, his surviving son, James Watt junior projected his father’s image through commissioning sculptures, medals, paintings and biographies which celebrated his reputation as a ‘great man’ of the Industrial Revolution. In popular historical understanding Watt has also become a hero of modernity, but the context in which he operated and the roles of others in shaping his ideas have been downplayed. This book explores new aspects of his work and evaluates him in his locational, family, social and intellectual contexts.

‘Two pivotal chapters demonstrate the close and strategic attention that Watt paid to his extensive correspondence.’
Christine MacLeod, Midland History

'Distinguished investigators and newer researchers together illustrate the state of the field concerning James Watt. Interesting and definitive… this book [is] indispensable for buff and researcher alike.'

Barbara Hahn, English Historical Review

'This book [is] indispensable for buff and researcher alike.'
Barbara Hahn, English Historical Review

Author Information

Malcolm Dick is Director of the Centre for West Midlands History at the University of Birmingham. He directed two history projects in Birmingham between 2000 and 2004: the Millennibrum Project, which created a multi-media archive of post-1945 Birmingham history and Revolutionary Players which produced an online resource of the history of the West Midlands region. Malcolm has published books on Joseph Priestley, Matthew Boulton and the history of Birmingham and co-directs the Centre for Printing History & Culture. Caroline Archer-Parré is Professor of Typography at Birmingham City University, Director of the Centre for Printing History & Culture and Chairman of the Baskerville Society. She is the author of The Kynoch Press, 1876-1982: the anatomy of a printing house, (British Library, 2000); Paris Underground (MBP, 2004); and Tart cards: London’s illicit advertising art (MBP, 2003). Caroline is currently Co-investigator on the AHRC-funded project, ‘Letterpress Printing: past, present, future’.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Illustrations7
Preface and Acknowledgements13
1. James Watt and the Steam Engine: A Calvinist Path to Enlightenment and Creativity25
2. The Rise of James Watt: Enlightenment, Commerce, and Industry in a British Atlantic Merchant City, 1736–7453
3. 'Of Material Service to Him': Margaret Miller Watt and Ann McGregor Watt, the Wives of James Watt75
4. James Watt's Paine: Mob Rules, Democrats, and Demons97
5. The Watt Family, Thomas Beddoes, Davies Giddy, Humphry Davy, and the Medical Pneumatic Institution, Bristol123
6. Catalysing Chemical Correspondence: James Watt and the Case of Joseph Black and James Keir151
7. James Watt and the Business of Natural Philosophy177
8. James Watt's Workshop: Making the World Anew203
9. James Watt as Musical Organ Maker: Myth or Reality?223
10. The Papers of James Watt and Family245
Notes on the Contributors267