Dr James Sumner



Photograph of Dr James Sumner

Contact details:

Telephone: +44 (0)161 275 5845
+44 (0)161 275 5699
Email: James.Sumner@manchester.ac.uk
Website(s): Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine
Personal site (all views my own)

Research interests

Imagine it is 1762, and you are a brewer. Another brewer offers to sell you a book he has just published, describing improvements to the brewing process. What are you thinking? Perhaps you are impressed that he has written a book. Perhaps, though, you are suspicious. If his improvements work, why doesn’t he keep quiet and use them to get rich? And even supposing his improvements have worked for him: can you copy them successfully with only the book for guidance? Now imagine a chemist invites you to a lecture course. Like the brewer, he claims to have knowledge that will improve your brewing; to stop too many rival brewers getting hold of it, he charges very large fees. You ask him how he can understand the brewing process, not being a brewer. He replies that the lessons of chemistry are universal, and include ideas no brewer would ever think of. Do you believe him? These questions of credibility were at the heart of interaction between trade communities and the emerging professional sciences. My research looks at the various strategies used by both brewers and scientists to overcome them and create, by around 1880, a specialist discipline of "brewing science."


Highlight publications

  • Nuvolari, Alessandro; Sumner, James. (2013). Inventors, Patents, and Inventive Activities in the English Brewing Industry, 1634–1850. Business History Review, 87(Special Issue 01), 95-120. eScholarID:195543 | DOI:10.1017/S0007680513000159
  • James Sumner. (2013). Brewing science, technology and print, 1700-1880. London: Pickering and Chatto. eScholarID:198559
  • James Sumner. (2013). Walls of resonance: institutional history and the buildings of the University of Manchester. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Part A, 44(4), 700-715. eScholarID:213502 | DOI:10.1016/j.shpsa.2013.07.014
  • Sumner, James. (2012). Turing Today. Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 66(295), 295-300. eScholarID:195544 | DOI:10.1098/rsnr.2012.0036

Full list