Announcing the Early Engine Database

As we arrive at the date which would have marked the start of the 2nd International Early Engines Conference (now postponed to May 2021), we are delighted to be able to share news of a fantastic new research resource, the Early Engine Database – a fully searchable online database of 18th Century engines in the United Kingdom.

Early Engine Database – https://coalpitheath.org.uk/engines

Early Engine Database

Hosted and supported by the Cultural Heritage Institute, as part of their Heritage Knowledge Hub initiative, this new and unique resource contains details of Newcomen, Watt and other steam engines built in the century, and represents the fruits of over forty years of research and investigation by Dr John Kanefsky (University of Exeter).

The Early Engine Database is provided as a resource for researchers in any discipline, industrial sector or geographical area. Anyone is free to use or adapt it to their work, provided the source is acknowledged. This is a collaborative and continually-evolving research project; corrections, updates and additions are warmly welcomed and can be submitted. Access to the raw data is also available on request.

Forty Years of Research

Dr Kanefsky will be familiar to attendees at the First IEEC Conference in 2017. His interest in this subject originated in the 1970s whilst undertaking research for his PhD, when author and publisher John Robey suggested they work together to develop an authoritative list of eighteenth century engines, building on the earlier work of John R. Harris on The employment of steam power in the eighteenth century (History, Vol.52, No.175, 1967, pp.133-148).

The resulting database was produced as part of John Kanefsky’s Doctoral thesis, awarded in 1979: The diffusion of power technology in British industry. 1760-1870 (available from the British Library’s EThOS service) and described by Kanefsky and Robey in a major published paper, Steam Engines in 18th-Century Britain: A Quantitative Assessment in Technology and Culture, Vol.21, No.2 (April 1980), pp.161-186.

The 1980 paper has been exhaustively analysed by academics and enthusiasts alike: from students of the industrial revolution in general to economic historians tracing the diffusion of technology and capital formation. Dr Kanefsky continued the research and was later able to convert the original data into a modern spreadsheet, leading to the current database.

Early Engines – Working together

The International Early Engines Conference is delighted to partner with the Cultural Heritage Institute, The Engine House Network (TEHN), South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group and ISSES (International Stationary Steam Engine Society) to share this Heritage Knowledge Hub resource with a much wider audience for the first time, opening up new avenues for study and research relating to early engines, and building on the work of Dr Kanefsky and other researchers who have contributed to this endeavour (acknowledgments).

CHI: Heritage Knowledge Hub

The Cultural Heritage Institute is seeking further opportunities to add to the Heritage Knowledge Hub and would welcome offers of material that could be shared publically in this way.

Cultural Heritage Institute

The Cultural Heritage Institute is working with ISSES on additional resources taking early engine data further into the 18th Century. 

Beyond industrial heritage, the CHI intends to support resources on cultural heritage, with sections on transport, agriculture and land use, entertainment and sport, food and drink, etc; covering the tangible and intangible ways human society has interacted with its surroundings.

Further enquiries on the Heritage Knowledge Hub can be addressed to David Hardwick (david.hardwick@rau.ac.uk) or CHI Director Geraint Coles (Geraint.Coles@rau.ac.uk)

Biographical note

Dr John Kanefsky is an Honorary University Fellow in the Department of History at the University of Exeter. An economic historian with a wide range of research interests, he is author of several papers on eighteenth century steam engines, the most recent of which is a study of the Norris Files (to be published by the IEEC). He is also researching the history of Devon in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Correspondence to: John Kanefsky (j.w.kanefsky@exeter.ac.uk)

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