Historical Group Research Day 2019

16 November 2019

09:30 - 16:00

Sheffield Hallam University
Cantor Building
153 Arundel Street
United Kingdom
S1 2NU

Non RPS Member£10.00 
RPS Member£5.00 

The Historical Group is pleased to announce that the 2019 Research Day will take place at Sheffield Hallam University at 9.30am on 16th November 2019.  We are grateful to the University for providing the same venue as in previous years. Full joining instructions and a programme for the day will be issued to delegates nearer the date.

Roger Farnham will chair a morning session celebrating James Watt’s possible contribution to the origins of photography.

Speakers include Ben Russell from the Science Museum, who curates mechanical engineering and is responsible for the famous James Watt’s Workshop.  Ben will set the scene on Watt’s world, including Watt’s peers in the Lunar Society and how they may have inspired Watt’s broad range of interests and achievements. 

Rose Teanby, who has been researching some optical artefacts in Watt’s workshop, will report on her findings.  She will bring along a model made in conjunction with physicist Roger Smith based on drawings found in the workshop.

Rose’s presentation also includes the famous letter from Watt to Josiah Wedgwood Junior (Tom’s older brother) intimating that he was keen to try Tom’s silver process.  He will also summarise the 19th and early 20th century speculation on Watt’s contribution to photography.

Roger Farnham will describe the research done to create The James Watt Print Show which created work using Watt’s 1780 patent letter-copier process; he will report on how contemporary ‘alternative processes’ photographers have responded to the process, and speculate on its possible development as a photomechanical process.

Gilly Read will report on the group’s recent visit to Chalon-sur-Soane, which has two museums dedicated to Nicéphore Niepce.  Niépce was also an engineer, with a patent from Napoleon for his internal combustion engine.  He is now somewhat more famous for his ‘reproduction process’: an intriguing comparison with James Watt.

Roger will also tell us how gallic acid, as used by Watt in the letter-copier process, became a key component in photography, being used by Talbot and Alphonse Poitevin, and then ‘morphed’ into pyro (pyrogallol), as used in the wet collodion process before taking on legendary status as a plate and film developer.

The afternoon session from 1pm will follow our usual format of brief papers for new projects and work in progress and slightly longer for more advanced or completed projects.  Confirmed speakers for the afternoon include Martin Barnes (V & A), Dr Michael Pritchard (RPS) and Dr David Clarke (SHU) and Dr Ron Callender.


This is a packed programme and local lunch venues are likely to be busy on a Saturday. We advise delegates to bring a packed lunch.  Tea, coffee and water etc. will be provided.


Geoff Blackwell
Email the event organiser
0791 222 7762

Region: YorkshireGroup(s): Historical