The University of Birmingham is hosting a three-day conference about inventor James Watt.

“Rethinking James Watt (1736-1819): Innovation, Culture and Legacy” will run from the evening of Friday, August 30 and conclude on Sunday, September 1.

It will start just a few days after the 200th anniversary of Watt’s death.

Full details, including conference fees, have still to be finalised. However, the University has now issued a “call for papers”, for speakers interested in taking part in the conference.

Download early conference information in Microsoft Word format here.

Dr Malcolm Dick from the University said: “This conference seeks to consider the diverse influences that shaped Watt’s experiences in Scotland and Birmingham. One underlying theme is to look at Watt the innovator in new ways and explore the idea of innovation at different times and in different localities – an issue that will be explored by a panel of historians and scientists.”

He added: “Watt is frequently conceived as a heroic genius, but the conference encourages papers that look critically at his work and impact and consider how others helped to shape his inventions.

“This conference will bring together academics in different disciplines, including scientists and engineers – the Newcomen Society and Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education are involved –  as well as historians; heritage professionals working in archives, libraries and museums and researchers at all stages of their careers inside and outside universities.

“Alongside the conference, there will be a major Watt exhibition at the Library of Birmingham and the oldest surviving Watt working steam engine, the Smethwick Engine, will be operating at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum.”

Proposals for 20-minute papers for the conference should include the following:

  • title of the paper;
  • a brief summary of the paper (c. 200 words);
  • a brief biography of the author (c. 200 words); and
  • full contact details for the author.

They should be sent to Dr Malcolm Dick, Director, Centre for West Midlands History, School of History and Cultures, University of Birmingham, by 1 May 2019, as Word attachments by email to

Find out about more Watt events in the Birmingham area here.