Age of Invention: More the Merrier
Today I’m making good on a promise. A few months ago I said that I would start practising what I preach, and “begin to upload to somewhere freely accessible the transcripts and notes that I use or cite in the work that I publish”. Well, today I begin, kicking off with my transcripts and notes from the travel diaries of Samuel More — secretary for almost thirty years to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, widely considered by his contemporaries to have been one of the leading experts on the inventions and industries of the late eighteenth century.
I’ve cited these diaries a few times this year: for More’s vivid descriptions of iron foundries and early railways, for his romantic impressions of the Staffordshire Potteries, and for his first-hand account of the mountain of the Welsh copper king. It has informed many of my other pieces this year too. And having helped to publicise them, even just the snippets I’d shared started to generate some new knowledge among specialists: new technical details about some 1760s Cornish Newcomen engines, for example, and about 1770s railway construction. It’s especially rich in details about ironmaking, because More was best friends with John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson. But the only way to have gone and checked the source for yourself would have been to either visit the British Library to view the manuscript yourself, or write to me to ask for more extracts or photographs.
Until now, that is, because I have just made my full transcripts, summaries, and notes from the diaries — over 100,000 words of everything and anything in them relating to industry, manufactures, inventions, agriculture, economic conditions, and infrastructure, with a great deal more besides — available for all to freely view online. You can read it here. My Christmas present, if you will, to all researchers.
I’m aiming to publish one last piece this year, but in the meantime if you’re stuck for reading while digesting some festive treats, here are what I personally consider my best pieces this year:
On the risks and responsibilities of writing history for the public (with some reflections on a still-unresolved academic controversy)
On the eighteenth-century mania for improving animals
On the rise of London and its lost county feasts
On how Boulton & Watt did not sell steam engines, but power
And as a Christmas bonus, here’s a piece from a few years ago that used to be behind a paywall, but which I was recently reminded of and I’ve now made free for all to read:
On the most surprising would-be colonial powers
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