Tickets are now on sale for the “Rethinking James Watt” conference at the University of Birmingham. The event will run from Friday, August 30, to Sunday, September 1, 2019.

You can book online here.

To attend the full conference costs £120. There are also day passes available.

The conference – full title “Rethinking James Watt (1736-1819): Innovation, Culture and Legacy” – is taking place just days after the 200th anniversary of the death of inventor James Watt. Watt spent much of his later life in Birmingham, re-settling from his birthplace in Scotland.

The conference will take place on the first floor of the University Arts Building in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. The postcode is B15 2TT.

Please contact Malcolm Dick ( for more details.

Full details of the conference timings and speakers are listed below. You can also download these details in Word format here.


University Station (frequent trains from and to New Street Station) is on the edge of the Edgbaston campus and only a five to ten-minute walk to the Arts Building where the conference is held. Parking is free at the University on Friday evenings and all day on Saturday and Sunday. The Arts Building is R16 in the Red Zone of the Edgbaston campus. See directions to the University here.


Attendees who need to book accommodation will find a variety of venues with different prices close to the University of Birmingham or in Birmingham itself:

  1. University Edgbaston campus accommodation includes Edgbaston Park Hotel and Conference Centre and Lucas House Hotel
  2. Bed and breakfast accommodation is also available at Woodbroke Quaker Study Centre and Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), which are close to the University.
  3. For additional accommodation venues in Birmingham click here.



Friday, August 30, 2019

16.30 – 17.00 Registration and drinks reception
17.00 – 17.15 Introduction, Malcolm Dick
17.15 – 17.40 ‘Reimagining Watt’s world’, Kathleen Bell
17.40 – 18.30 Keynote 1 and book launch – ‘The Life and Legend of James Watt: Collaboration, Natural Philosophy, and the Improvement of the Steam Engine’, David Philip Miller. Paperbacks of the book will be available for sale at a reduced rate
18.30 – 20.00 Drinks and buffet dinner

Saturday, August 31, 2019

9.00 – 9.30 Registration and refreshments
9.30 – 9.40 Introduction, Malcolm Dick
9.40 – 10.20 Keynote 2 – ‘Thinking outside the box’: James Watt, a mechanic who became an engineer’, Peter Jones
10.20 – 10.30 Comfort break
10.30 – 11.45 Session A: Representations of Watt, ‘James Watt in print – a survey’, Martin Killeen. ‘From machine to man to myth and back again: representation of James Watt and the Boulton & Watt beam engine at the National Museum of Scotland’, Kate Bowell. ‘Does size matter? James Eckford Lauder and his monumental memorialisation of Watt’, Helen Smailes.
11.45 – 12.05 Refreshments break
12.05 – 13.20 Session B: Watt and the Steam Engine, ‘The first working Watt steam engine in the world – servant to a water wheel’, George Demidowicz. ‘Innovation: whisky, copper & sugar’, William Whitehead. ‘James Watt and the Crank Company’, John Townley.
13.20 – 14.10 Lunch
14.10 – 15.25 Session C: Contextualising the Steam Engine – ‘James Watt in context: steam engine building 1776-1800’, John Kanefsky. ‘The steam engine and the sugar isles: the use of James Watt’s steam engine in the sugar plantations of the British West Indies (1783-1820)’, Alastair Learmont. ‘The dark side of steam: boiler explosions in the nineteenth-century West Midlands’, Sarah Jordan.
15.25 – 15.45 Refreshments break
15.45 – 17.00 Session D: Beyond Steam: Watt the Innovator – ‘James Watt: the inveterate inventor’, Jim Andrews. ‘Diverse perspectives on James Watt’s letter-copier process’, Roger Farnham. ‘Interrupted experiments in optics – James Watt and the extemporised camera obscura, Rose Teanby.
17.00 – 17.20 Refreshments break
17.20 – 18.35 Session E: Legacies, ‘The Watt Institution: James Watt’s legacy in Greenock’, Lorraine Murray. ‘Innovations in steam power in Greenock in the 1920s: the Orchard Sugar Refining Company Limited and steam ploughing’, Heather Holmes. ‘Evidence, provenance and a ‘tin ear’: the case for James Watt’s musical instruments’, Nina Baker
18.35 – 18.50 Break and drinks reception
18.50 – 19.30 Keynote 3 – ‘James Watt & Co: industrializing gas technology, Leslie Tomory
19.30 – 21.00 Buffet dinner

Sunday, September 1, 2019

9.00 – 9.30 Registration and refreshments
9.30 – 9.40 Introduction, Malcolm Dick
9.40 – 10.20 Keynote 4 – “Of material service to him”: Margaret Miller Watt and Ann McGregor Watt, wives of James Watt’, Kate Croft
10.20 – 10.30 Refreshments Break
10.30 – 11.45 Session F: Watt and His Family, ‘Ill health and some remedies in the papers of James Watt and family’, Fiona Tait. ‘Gregory Watt in primary material: a preliminary investigation’, Harry Wilkins. ‘The personal documents of James Watt’, Eleanor Beestin

This event is part of the James Watt 2019 celebrations in Birmingham and the West Midlands. Find out more at

Watt 2019 logo