Department of Social & Policy Sciences

The History of Technology Research Unit (HOTRU)

Annual Report

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For further information about the Unit, please contact Angus Buchanan (Honorary Director) email:

(formerly the Centre for the History of Technology)

This Unit has recently been re-designated as a result of the decision by the University that a ‘Centre’ should be fully staffed, with major fund raising activities and recruiting postgraduate students. Even though it is one of the earliest and long-lived centres of specialised research in the University – it was founded in 1964, when we were still the Bristol College of Science and Technology – it has always been a small-scale enterprise with modest but achievable aims.

Over the years, the Unit has established a national and international reputation in its field, particularly in industrial archaeology and conservation studies, the development of the stationary steam engine, marine and aero-space technologies, gunpowder history, the gas industry, and the history of the engineering profession.

In the 1980s the Unit was well integrated with the History component in the three-year Degree in Social Sciences, a course which ran successfully for fifteen years before falling victim to a general economy drive, since when all History teaching posts have been lost and the Humanities Department which administered it has disappeared. Fortunately for the HOTRU, the Department of Social & Policy Sciences agreed to take the Unit under its wing, and it has continued to promote research in the history of technology through the voluntary participation of its Honorary Director, three Visiting Fellows, and the eight surviving ‘Rolt Fellows’.

The Rolt Fellows are senior professional people seeking to undertake research in the history of technology. They receive a small initial grant to assist this research, but otherwise give their time and support voluntarily. Together with some sympathetic supporters from other Departments in the University, and from the local Bath community, these groups constitute the membership of the History of Technology Seminar.

The year 2010 marked the centenary of the birth of L.T.C. Rolt, the brilliant writer on engineering history and industrial conservation who received an honorary degree from the University in 1973. When he died the following year, the University decided to promote a Rolt Fellowship in his memory, which has been administered from the outset by this Unit. Fourteen Fellows have been appointed, of whom the eight surviving members continue to take a lively interest in the activities of the Unit, contributing to a collection of essays celebrating the life and work of Tom Rolt, under the title Landscape with Technology. This was published by Millstream Press, Bath, in 2011.

The Unit thus continues to make a contribution to original historical research in the Department and the University. A substantial tradition of such research has now been established, and the hope is nurtured that the University will eventually recognise the value of historical studies and make appropriate appointments to secure them. Meanwhile, the members of the Unit continue to maintain the History of Technology Seminar, open to all sympathetic persons, and to advance a wide range of personal research projects in this large and expanding field of scholarship.

Our immediate project is the completion of a student primer under the title "The Technological Revolution" as our contribution to the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the University.

Rolt Memorial Fellows

  • D Ashford
  • Karen Beales
  • M Bone
  • John H Boyes
  • Peter Morris
  • John R Taylor
  • G Wallis