Papers and correspondence of Joseph Black

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Biographical material includes early letters of reference from Belfast, 1938-1941, a report on a visit to educational establishments in the USA in 1962, papers relating to the conferment of honorary degrees, and photographs, 1976-1989. Although there are a few early engineering drawings (Belfast 1938) and later records of Black's interest in Gustave Eiffel's contribution to the development of experimental aerodynamics, the largest component of his research material relates to a medical engineering project at Bath. This involved the development of a 'floating stretcher', designed to alleviate problems of road vibration while patients were being conveyed by ambulance. There are correspondence and papers relating to publications and lectures, 1947-2000, the topics ranging from supersonics to Renaissance Art.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph Black was born in Belfast on 25 January 1921. He was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and at Queen's University, Belfast, graduating in 1941 with first class honours in mechanical engineering. After three years as a scientific officer with the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, Hampshire, Black returned to Queen's in 1944 as a research fellow. He was awarded an MSc in 1945. Later in the same year Black joined de Havilland Aircraft as an aerodynamicist and worked with the team designing the revolutionary Comet jet aeroplane.

In 1946 Black left de Havilland to begin an academic career. His first appointment was as a lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bristol where his colleagues included A.G. Pugsley, A.H. Chilver and B. Crossland. Shortly after his appointment Black helped to establish the department of aeronautical engineering under the leadership of A.R. Collar. In 1960 he left the University of Bristol to become Head of the Department of Engineering at the newly created Bristol College of Science and Technology (subsequently Bristol College of Advanced Technology). He decided that from the outset his new department should embrace both aeronautical and mechanical engineering. In 1966 the transformation of the College into Bath University of Technology (later the University of Bath) presented Black with new challenges as he helped to guide and foster the institution's development. Between 1960 and 1966 he was involved in the intensive planning which immediately preceded the university's creation and was a member of the committee that chose its Claverton Down site.

Between 1970 and 1973, as one of the University of Bath's first pro-vice-chancellors, Black was instrumental in devising and implementing a number of innovative administrative and academic structures, including the establishment of a unified School of Engineering encompassing mechanical, aeronautical and manufacturing engineering. As a keen advocate of design as an integral part of engineering, Black laid the foundation of the school's outstanding reputation in engineering design. Particularly enthusiastic about new techniques in computer-aided design, he ensured that appropriate emphasis was placed on design in the University of Bath undergraduate engineering curriculum. Recognising the need in engineering education for closer links between universities and industry, Black played an important part in the introduction of the 'thin sandwich' course whereby students alternated academic terms with periods spent on industrial placements. He was also largely responsible for instigating degree courses in engineering with French and German. On his retirement from the University of Bath in 1985 Black was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship to research and write on engineering in art.

Amongst Black's contributions to the wider higher education community and public service was membership of the University Grants Committee and the Design Council. He was appointed CBE in 1979 for his work in the field of university education and in 1981 elected to the Fellowship of Engineering (Royal Academy of Engineering).


By section as follows: Index of correspondents

Conditions Governing Access

Contact the Archivist, University of Bath Library.

Acquisition Information

The papers were received from Mrs M. Black, widow, in August 2001. Placed in University of Bath Library in 2002.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Joseph Black: NCUACS catalogue no. 107/6/02, 26 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath