Cancelled: Books, machines and the first mechanics' institutes

14 March 2019, 19:30 - 21:00
Chelmsford campus

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Due to unforeseen circumstances this event has been cancelled. For the full list of Science Festival events please visit


Presented by Prof John Gardner


Discover how engineering, literature and history were taught in the early nineteenth century at Mechanics’ classes and learn about how the men and women who attended and the opposition they faced as they demanded a broader education.


This talk examines the kind of education and work of the first British Mechanics’ Institutes. From only one institution in 1823, to over seven hundred by 1850, these institutes were the ancestors of many modern establishments, such as Manchester University, which partly grew out of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute. These institutions provided a new kind of education to people in the arts, philosophy, sciences and engineering. They also tell a different story (from the current one) about women in engineering. Cities such as Manchester saw up to a third of the students attending lectures were women—this is a century before Cambridge and Oxford even allowed women to be awarded degrees.


This talk uses archival research to explore the formation of these institutions, the people who attended, what they were taught and the questions they were asked.


Pro Gardner has been professor of English Literature since 2004 and previously worked at the University of Glasgow. He is author of numerous studies of eighteenth and nineteenth century culture. John’s monograph Poetry and Popular Protest was shortlisted for the ESSE book award. John’s current research is on the intersections between engineering and literary cultures.

Event Details

14 March 2019, 19:30 - 21:00
Chelmsford campus