Exhibition uncovers stories from the Industrial Age

A new Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded exhibition tells the unheard stories of the industrial revolution in Leeds.

The exhibition, ‘Living with Machines: Human Stories from the Industrial Age’, takes a unique look at Industrial Age Britain through the lens of Leeds and the surrounding regions.

It is inspired by the Living with Machines research programme and aims to shed new light on this important period of history during which rapid technological changes shaped our lives forever.

Visitors can see early examples of Leeds machinery that revolutionised industries from potato peelers to textile looms alongside a diverse array of historic materials such as newspapers and football ephemera.

Contemporary responses, offering reflections on the parallels between mechanisation in the Industrial Age and advances in artificial intelligence and digital technology, are also woven throughout the exhibition.

Full series of events

Items on display include:

  • a ground-breaking pattern marking machine that inspired hopes of a shorter working day and helped pave the way to today’s maximum working hour requirements
  • a ready-to-wear child’s three-piece suit produced in Leeds in the 1880s, which is one of the earlier examples of mass-produced clothing and fast fashion
  • workers’ protest ballads performed for the first time as part of a bespoke audio installation by Leeds-based folk musicians.

The exhibition is accompanied by a full series of events, which include loom weaving, crafts workshops, and a Wiki edit-a-thon.

You can find full information on these and how they relate to the material in this exhibition on the Leeds City Museum website.

Telling human stories

John McGoldrick, co-curator of Living with Machines, and curator of industrial history at Leeds Museums and Galleries, said:

This has been a fascinating project to work on with colleagues at the British Library. It has been especially exciting to re-interpret some of our collections through the lens of the Living with Machines research project and its themes.

In doing this research we have been able to bring to life and make relevant objects that, up to now, had kept their stories very close to their chest.

The collaboration has helped us to re-affirm the relevance of our collections in telling the human stories of industry in Leeds.

New computational and historical methods

The Living with Machines research programme works to develop new computational and historical methods for working with library collections.

It is a collaboration between:

  • the British Library
  • The Alan Turing Institute
  • five partner universities funded by AHRC and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund.

Over 2,000 people have contributed to the research programme via crowdsourcing work, analysing how machines were reported on, in historical newspapers from the British Library’s collection. The data they collected helped shape the exhibition and informed future research questions.

Learning from the past

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of AHRC, said:

We are continually changing how we live and work in response to new technologies. Learning from the past can help ensure that we change in positive ways that benefit us all.

This exhibition is a fascinating look at how we have adapted to technological advancements as a society for better and for worse and offers crucial insights into how we can respond to the technological innovations of tomorrow in ways that benefit us all.

‘Living with Machines : Human Stories from the Industrial Age’ is free and runs at Leeds City Museum from 29 July 2022 to 8 January 2023.

Top image:  Credit: SeventyFour, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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