The Newcomen Society was a joint sponsor of this 1,800 delegate international congress, alongside the British Society for the History of Science, which took place in Manchester in July. 1500 papers ran in parallel sessions, together with other events, meetings and receptions. The Society ran a symposium, entitled, ‘Dynamics of knowledge’, organised by Jonathan Aylen of the University of Manchester, Julia Elton, past president and Arjan Van Rooij from Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands, which was exceptionally well attended.
The first of the two parts of the symposium, subtitled ‘What is Progress?’, looked in broad terms at the conditions in which invention and innovation succeed or fail and opened with a paper by Stan Metcalfe on ‘Restless capitalism’, followed by Brian Price on the role of failure in engineering practice, Jonathan Aylen on how innovation takes place once plants are built (a process he calls ‘Stretch’) and Arjan van Rooij who is conducting an exploratory study on success, failure and stalling in business.
The second part of the symposium, ‘Constructing technologies’, looked at some case studies in detail. Fred Starr discussed first strides in high-temperature metallurgy and the internal combustion engine followed by Ed Marshall who demonstrated how Harry Ferguson transformed the tractor/plough relationship to the benefit of world-wide agriculture and Martin Gregory on how the sewing machine superseded the seamstress. Of particular interest was how the Singer machine triumphed despite its technical inferiority compared to others.
The Society had an impressive stand which ran videos on the Black Country Museum replica Newcomen engine in steam and an intriguing selection of mystery objects, all provided by President Geoff Wallis, which attracted many delegates. We also offered a selection of Links and our Journal, as well as some of our book stocks.
Many people expressed interest in joining the Society and we expect to see some of the papers from our own and other symposia published in the Journal.