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Call for Papers & Workshop in Oxford on 10-11 May 2019

Organisation of the Workshop

The workshop will be based on pre-circulated papers of approximately 5,000 words and a selection of workshop contributions will be published in an edited volume.

The organisers are: Peter Reed (Independent Researcher), Jonathan Aylen (University of Manchester and the Newcomen Society) and Viviane Quirke (Oxford Brookes University).

Please contact Jonathan Aylen on Jonathan.Aylen@manchester.ac.uk for further information.


Consultants – A Neglected Group

Consultants have been neglected by historians of engineering and technology. They are one professional group that is overlooked when discussing innovations. With few exceptions, only passing reference is made to their background and training, the circumstances of their engagement, the nature of the work and its success.

Yet it is clear that consultants were often a key resource in knowledge management for firms, especially in emerging sectors making the transition from craft-based traditions to use of scientific knowledge.

As the modern corporation arose during the late 19th century, firms faced a growing problem of managing knowledge. They set up in-house laboratories and began to develop R&D programmes. But, at the same time, consultants played a key role in spreading new technologies across firms, improving operating practices within factories, establishing standards and helping develop key supply industries.

A Widely Supported Conference

To help explore these issues, the Newcomen Society has agreed to support a Conference in 2019 on the “Changing Role of Consultants in Industry, 1850 to 2000. Other supporters include: the British Society for the History of Science, Oxford Brookes University and the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry. The Workshop is to held in Oxford on 10th  & 11th May 2019. The Society would welcome papers on a range of issues.

This workshop will address the role of consultants in various industrial sectors across Europe and in the United States, and attempt to establish evidence on who the consultants were, the market for consultants and their impact. Questions that arise include:

Who are the consultants? Studies of individuals or consultancy firms which illustrate the role of consultants.

Shifting definitions of consultants over time: how has this changed and how has the profession evolved?

What of the emergence of professional service firms and process plant contractors who bundle consultancy with the supply of design, plant or buildings, commissioning, training and start-up?

How Did Someone Become A Consultant?

What gave consultants the expertise (and standing) to undertake such work? What networks did consultants operate in to sustain their work? What levels of remuneration were available?

The Market For Consultants

Who employed consultants? What are the challenges for a business in defining a consultant’s project? How readily is the consultant’s report utilised by the business? What kind of consultancy work was undertaken? Did it vary over time? At what point was the consultant’s work taken inside the business? Did any conflicts arise? If so, how were they resolved? To what extent were patents involved? What about the use of industrial consultants by banks, stockholders, financiers and/or government departments or agencies to evaluate capital schemes and projects?

The Impact Of Consultants

How did consultants contribute to innovation and diffusion of technology? What types of knowledge were transferred? What was their relationship to formal in-house R&D – complement or substitute? Has their influence shifted over time? How has their technical advice influenced government industrial policies?

The workshop is supported by grants from the British Society for the History of Science, The Newcomen Society, Oxford Brookes University and the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry.