Biography

1995-8
BA Hons Natural Sciences (History and Philosophy of Science), University of Cambridge

1999-2000
MA History and Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds

2000-4
PhD, Division of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds. Supervisor Dr Graeme Gooday. Title "The Metric Tun: standardisation, quantification and industrialisation in the British brewing industry, 1760-1830"

2004-present
Lecturer in History of Technology, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester

Overview

Imagine it is 1762, and you are a brewer. Another brewer offers to sell you a book he has just published, describing improvements to the brewing process. What are you thinking? Perhaps you are impressed that he has written a book. Perhaps, though, you are suspicious. If his improvements work, why doesn’t he keep quiet and use them to get rich? And even supposing his improvements have worked for him: can you copy them successfully with only the book for guidance? Now imagine a chemist invites you to a lecture course. Like the brewer, he claims to have knowledge that will improve your brewing; to stop too many rival brewers getting hold of it, he charges very large fees. You ask him how he can understand the brewing process, not being a brewer. He replies that the lessons of chemistry are universal, and include ideas no brewer would ever think of. Do you believe him? These questions of credibility were at the heart of interaction between trade communities and the emerging professional sciences. My research looks at the various strategies used by both brewers and scientists to overcome them and create, by around 1880, a specialist discipline of "brewing science."

Research interests

I have broad interests in the relationships between science and technology, and the communication of technical ideas to general audiences, from the eighteenth century to the present day.

Brewing science

In 2013 I published a research monograph, Brewing Science, Technology and Print, 1700-1880, which charts how beer-brewing consultants, chemical analysts, and others used a range of strategies of public and private communication -- book publication, confidential manuscripts, lecturing, demonstration -- to make a systematic discipline of "brewing science" credible to sceptical audiences in Britain and Ireland across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The analysis uses the brewing industry as a case study to explore wider themes of scientific reputation and credibility: the importance of original research to instructors' authority, the double-edged status of chemistry in the age of adulteration fears, and the gap between laboratory demonstration and workplace application.

I still work on this theme, and have more recently been looking at definitions of traditional "purity" and "chemical" intervention in beer in the years around 1900.

Computers

I also work on the role and image of the computer in everyday British life, from early definitions of electronic digital computing in the 1940s to mass domestic personal use in the 1990s. I am particularly interested in questions of promotion and reputation, and in the rhetorical use of the computer as an indication of national policy priorities.

Research output

  1. History of Science, Technology and Medicine

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

  2. Defiance to compliance: visions of the computer in postwar Britain

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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