Among the many treasures in the collections of the Science Museum in London is the complete workshop of the Scottish engineer James Watt (1736-1819), acquired in its entirety from the attic of Watt’s Birmingham home in 1924, where it had been left as an industrial shrine since his death in 1819. Watt is best known for his pioneering work on the steam engine, but the workshop contains very few engine-related items. Instead, it is filled with jars of chemicals, sculpture-copying machines and materials, a profusion of instruments and objects and evidence of Watt’s many diverse projects. Traditional biographies of Watt have concentrated on the steam engine, but Ben Russell tells a richer story, exploring the processes by which ephemeral ideas were transformed into tangible artefacts and the multifaceted world of production upon which Britain’s industrial revolution depended. James Watt: Making the World Anew is a craft history of Britain’s early industrial transformation as well as a prehistory of the engineering profession itself.It explores the motivation for making things, looking not only at what was produced but also why, drawing on a rich range of resources – not just archival material and biographies on Watt but also objects themselves, and sources from fields as diverse as ceramics, antique systems of proportion, sculpture and machine making. Generously illustrated, James Watt is a unique, expansive exploration of the engineer’s life, not as an end in itself but as a lens through which the broader practices of making and manufacturing in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries can be explored.
Hardcover: 280 pages