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History and Cultures have developed three public events in partnership with the Birmingham Midland Institute  and the Cadbury Research Library  to showcase the work of the Centre for West Midlands History at this year’s Arts & Sciences Festival.

Focused upon the role steam and innovation played in Birmingham’s economic and social evolution at the time of the “industrial revolution” the events will take the Centre’s research to a diverse array of audiences on and off campus. Focused upon the steam engine’s role in the emergence of mass popular culture, participants in the sessions will learn how the practical application of steam technology, perfected in Birmingham by James Watt and commercialised by Matthew Bolton, built upon earlier developments such as printing technology to create modern society.

The series kicks off with Starting with Steam: The Origins of the Industrial Revolution in Birmingham  a lively and interactive session led by Malcolm Dick and Katherine Croft at the Birmingham Midland Institute which will use the latest research on the topic to tell the story of how James Watt’s steam engine (developed in Handsworth) began to change the world in the late 18th Century.

  • 12 March 13:30-15:00, John Lee Theatre, Birmingham Midland Institute

Whilst harnessing steam power was essential to the development of modern industry it was not the only development that led to the development of modern industrial society. Emerging technologies such as the printing press that aided the dissemination of knowledge and the creation of new forms of commercial organisation also enabled the process. In this session researcher Caroline Archer will tell the story of how the successes and failures of John Baskerville, a Birmingham based printer and 18th Century information technology entrepreneur illuminates the emergence of capitalism and mass culture. As part of the session participants will have the chance to get close up and view some original material printed by John Baskerville in Birmingham, which is now held in the Cadbury Research Library.

  • 13 March, 12:30-13:30, Cadbury Research library

Using books, pamphlets and other documents held in the Cadbury Research Library, the final event in the series; culminates in a hands-on session exploring how the development of a mass print culture spurred the rapid dissemination of scientific knowledge amongst the public. In doing so session leader Kate Croft will show how the new technology created an easily accessible and democratic forum through the printed word that enabled ordinary people as well as innovators and entrepreneurs to understand and participate in the new scientific culture.

  • 16 March, 12:30-13:30, Cadbury Research Library

Since it was founded in 2012 the Arts & Science Festival has been the University of Birmingham’s annual showcase of its research to the city and region at large. Full details and a listing of all events can be found on the festival website.