John Gardner Talks


Forthcoming Talks

‘Shelley’s Steamship’

  • On Monday 11 September at 7.30 pm in the Cambridge Museum of Technology John Gardner will give a talk on the poet Percy Shelley’s attempt to build a steam ship to trade between Livorno and Marseilles in 1820. This was new technology. The first successful passenger steamship was Robert Fulton’s Clermont which sailed on the Hudson River in 1807. In Britain this was followed by Henry Bell’s Comet of 1812. It seems odd to think of a poet engaging in a cutting-edge engineering project. The whole notion of Romanticism seems to be against it. As Phil Connell writes, ‘Romantic writers such as Wordsworth and Shelley have typically been identified with an unambiguous hostility to industrial society and its intellectual apologists’ (Romanticism, Economics and the Question of Culture, 2005, vii). Nonetheless this was a period when there were fewer distinctions between the arts of Engineering and the Humanities.

Previous Talks

‘Turning the Screw: Literature, Technology and Culture. Engineering Romanticism, 1798–1851′

  • On Thursday 16 February at 5pm John Gardner discussed the Leverhulme Trust project, ‘Turning the Screw’ at the University of Cambridge English Faculty Board Room & on Teams. In this talk John will discuss the emergence of engineering and literary standards. To attend online please email the convenors at

‘Byron, Shelley and Peacock; from the Don Juan to the Nemesis’

‘The Screw, Verse, and Vernacular Forms’

  • On Friday 10 June 2022 at 11.45am at the Manufacture Conference in the Sir Ambrose Fleming Lecture Theatre, Roberts Building G06, University College London, John Gardner will give a talk titled, ‘The Screw, Verse, and Vernacular Forms’. Linking the adoption of screw forms to the tolerances adopted for flatness in the nineteenth century, and to the standardization of poetic forms, John will discuss texts including Joseph Whitworth’s ‘Plane Metallic Surfaces’ (1840); Whitworth’s ‘On a Uniform System of Screw Threads’ (1841); and Coventry Patmore’s ‘English Metrical Critics’ (1857). I will argue that behind the official standards on threads, flatness and poetic form that arose in the mid-C19 lies vernacular knowledge and practice.

‘The Politics of Lamb, Peacock and the East India Company’

  • On Saturday 18 June 2022 at the ‘Charles and Mary Lamb: Elia and Beyond Conference’ being held at the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, King’s Manor, University of York, John Gardner will give a talk on Charles Lamb and his fellow East India Company employee Thomas Love Peacock. The Company was, Thomas Babington Macauley writes, “the strangest of all governments; but it is designed for the strangest of all empires. […] intrusted with the sovereignty of a larger population, the disposal of a larger clear revenue, the command of a larger army, than are under the direct management of the Executive Government of the United Kingdom.”   It was while working for this company that Peacock oversaw the creation of his ‘Iron Chickens’, which were the first iron gunboats the world had seen.

Films of Previous Talks

‘Turning the Screw’

  • On 4 August 2022 at 11am at the NASSR/BARS New Romanticisms Conference at Edge Hill University, John Gardner discussed how new cutting tool technology allowed thread form standards to emerge. This paper looks at the relationship between standardized screw thread and Romantic period literary and engineering cultures.

‘On the Eve: The Grand National Holiday and Defensive Instructions for the People’

  • On 3 August 2022 at 3.30pm at the NASSR/BARS New Romanticisms Conference at Edge Hill University, John Gardner discussed intersections between ‘high’ and ‘low’ technologies and revolutionary violence. Macerone, a Mancunian Italian engineer who had been aide-de-camp to Napoleon’s brother-in-law Murat, produced works that would be banned today, such as Defensive Instructions for the People, which was published by Benbow. This pamphlet shows amateurs how to make pikes, bullets, incendiary devices, and bombs, as well as ways to engage in street-fighting.


  • On 15 October 2021 at Heriot Watt University, John Gardner gave a talk on ‘Gaslight’ and working class agency at the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institute. This is part of a conference to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mechanics’ Institutes.

‘Pollution and Paternalism at Mechanics’ Institutes in Glasgow, Ipswich, Manchester and Sheffield’

  • On 26 May 2021 at ARU, ‘Conversations’, John Gardner gave a short talk on early Mechanics’ libraries and Institutes. The talk mainly centres on tensions between paternalistic governors who knew what should be taught, and students who knew better. You can view the talk here:

‘The True Plane’

  • On 4 March 2021 at ‘Materialities‘, Oxford Brookes University, John Gardner gave a talk on ‘The Leverhulme project, the True Plane, Measurement, Standards and Form’. The talk concentrates on Joseph Whitworth and uses the work of Gilbert Simondon and Bruno Latour. You can view this talk here:

‘The Rising’

  • On 8 January 2021 the University of Glasgow School held a public event on 200 years of the 1820 Scottish Radical Uprising. This was attended by a large international audience. The day included a lecture by John Gardner on plays inspired by the rebellions in 1820. The talk focussed particularly on dramas by James Kelman on James Wilson’s march to Cathkin; and by Hector MacMillan on the attempt by a group of men to take the Carron Iron Works. You can view the talk here:

‘Shelley’s “Sublime Archimedean Art”‘

‘Inaugural Lecture’

Here is a link to John Gardner’s Inaugural lecture as professor: ‘Machines made out of words

Other Presentations

  • Below is a link to an interview on the Leverhulme Trust Fellowship:

Interview on the Leverhulme Project

  • Here is a link to the Powerpoint of a talk on Mechanics’ Institutes that John Gardner gave at the Society of Antiquaries in July 2017:

The Emergence of Mechanics’ Institutes

Please use this contact form if you have any questions or comments.

This work is supported by the Leverhulme Trust