Heroes of Invention: Technology, Liberalism and British Identity, 1750-1914

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Overview

This innovative study adopts a distinct perspective on both the industrial revolution and nineteenth-century British culture. It investigates why inventors rose to heroic stature and popular acclaim in Victorian Britain, attested by numerous monuments, biographies and honours, and contends there was no decline in the industrial nation's self-esteem before 1914. In a period notorious for hero-worship, the veneration of inventors might seem unremarkable, were it not for their previous disparagement and the relative neglect suffered by their twentieth-century successors. Christine MacLeod argues that inventors became figureheads of various nineteenth-century factions, from economic and political liberals to impoverished scientists and radical artisans, who deployed their heroic reputation, not least to challenge the aristocracy's hold on power and the militaristic national identity that bolstered it. Although this was a challenge that ultimately failed, its legacy of ideas about invention, inventors, and the history of the industrial revolution remains highly influential.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...presents numerous insights that will fascinate and enlighten those with more encompassing interests in social attitudes, perceptions and representations of techonology and culture, during the period of industrialization in Britain." -B. Zorina Khan, EH.NET

"It is well researched and fluently written." -Ron Harris, American Historical Review

"...an impressively judicious and learned book."
Journal of Modern History, Jordanna Bailkin, University of Washington

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Christine MacLeod is Senior Lecturer in Economic and Social History at the School of Humanities, University of Bristol. She is the author of Inventing the Industrial Revolution: the English Patent System, 1660-1800 (1988).

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements     viii
Abbreviations     xi
List of illustrations     xii
Introduction: inventors and other heroes     1
The new Prometheus     27
The inventor's progress     59
The apotheosis of James Watt     91
Watt, inventor of the Industrial Revolution     125
'What's Watt?' The radical critique     153
The technological pantheon     181
Heroes of the Pax Britannica     212
Debating the patent system     249
The workers' heroes     280
Maintaining the industrial spirit     315
Science and the disappearing inventor     351
Epilogue: the Victorian legacy     383
Bibliography     397
Index     440
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