Dr James SumnerPhD

Lecturer in the History of Technology

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Research interests

I have a variety of research interests in the histories of the applied sciences, technology and information culture, mainly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:

Brewing and applied chemistry. My 2013 book on the development of brewing science in Britain and Ireland between 1700 and 1880 explores how practical brewers used print publication to seek scientific credibility for their ideas, and also at how emerging scientific professionals worked to prove themselves useful to manufacturers.

Visions of computer technology. My current book project examines how electronic computers were promoted to, and understood by, non-expert audiences, from the first public announcements of the 1940s to the first mass-marketing of home microcomputers in the late 1970s. I apply the lessons of other historians’ studies of popular science, which have so far focused mainly on the nineteenth century, to a twentieth-century case that provides particularly useful illustrations of the relationship between academic research, print and broadcast culture, and national policy.

Local and regional history of science and technology. I am interested in the role of science and technology in the civic and educational identity of Manchester and North West England, and contribute to the University of Manchester’s university history and heritage initiatives.

I have supervised seven PhDs, and am currently supervisor to three students in partnership with the Museum of Science and Industry and the Science Museum as part of the AHRC-funded Science Museum and Archives Consortium studentship programme.

I was involved in co-developing Software for Europe, an ESF EUROCORES-funded project that co-ordinated research across eight European countries and the USA, and have worked closely with international colleagues in the Tensions of Europe network for the history of transnational technical communities and infrastructure.

I co-chaired the organising committee for the 2013 International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, the largest event in the field’s history, which brought 1750 delegates to Manchester and featured a week-long programme of research presentations, discussion sessions and public events.

I have developed a wide range of public engagement activities based on my work, often in collaboration with museums or science festivals.


Research and projects

No current projects are available for public display