The Topic.

Even though I’ve now only formally been a PhD student for a fortnight, I already understand about The Topic. This is what people mean when they ask you ‘what is Your Topic?’

Formally, the project title is ‘Power and Propulsion in the Jet Age: A Socio-Technical History of Gas Turbine Development at Metropolitan-Vickers, 1937-1965,’ which is a bit of a mouthful. Founded at the turn of the twentieth century as British Westinghouse, Metropolitan Vickers (M-V or Metrovick) were a Manchester electrical engineering firm. As a producer of steam generating plant they had an appreciation of the requirements of  high-temperature turbines, and they also had a strong culture of in-house research.1 In the late 1930s RAE Farnborough awarded M-V contracts to build some axial compressors, which were followed by contracts for a gas turbine test rig, and eventually M-V was given the task of developing the RAE’s F.2 jet engine design. Post-war Metrovick’s jet division was sold to Armstrong Siddeley as part of the rationalisation of the post-war aviation industry, but the Manchester company continued to build gas turbines for power generation and other uses, building the world’s first naval gas turbine in the late 1940s.

There are a number of themes and areas that I suspect will be worth exploring over the course of the PhD:

  • The post-war uses of high technology as a signifier of modernity, and as a tool for confirming Britain’s world status; This links in with the idea of ‘New Elizabethans.’
  • The Warfare State and Industry
  • British cultures of engineering

More on that later. For now, though, when asked, I just say I’m looking at the history of jet engines in Manchester…

1 Including building experimental particle physics equipment for the Cavendish Lab.

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