Annotated selected bibliography for historical interpretations of the industrial revolution in britain

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Freeman argues that both figuratively and literally the railway was the engine of ‘circulatory ferment’ that distributed people, goods and money, making everyone a member of a capitalist society. It encouraged the growth of cities and suburbs. Its speed and mobility expressed the spirit of the age. Its timetables required the standardization of time and brought a new discipline to society, including its cows since they had to be milked in the morning so that the railway could take fresh milk to the market. While it democratized travel, allowing, for example, ordinary people from all over the country to attend the Great Exhibition in 1851, it also reinforced society’s class structure through its first, second and third class carriages. The author also discuses such traditional topics such as the economics of the railways, its finance, its corporate management, and its labor force but he is especially good at drawing out its cultural implications by using the literature of the period, such as Dickens novels and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry, for example. In addition to discussing the representation of the railways in formal Victorian painting and the graphic arts, he uses less conventional sources such as cartoons, musical theater, sheet music, travel posters, board games, and toys to demonstrate that the railway was a central and pervasive feature of the Victorian imagination.
Hammond, J. L. and B. Hammond, The Town Labourer: The New Civilization, 1760-1832, Preface by Asa Briggs, New York: Anchor Books, 1968. Pp. xviii, 298. First published, 1917.

J. L. and Barbara Hammond, often simply called ‘the Hammonds’, were the+ most widely read social and economic historians in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century. Neither held academic appointments but, at a time when the subjects of economic history, social history and economics had not yet been forged into clearly separate academic disciplines, their books provided a foundation of historical evidence for a ‘pessimistic’ interpretation of the social and cultural consequences of the Industrial Revolution, which has had an enduring influence upon both history and the public perception of economics as the ‘dismal science.’ Their view of the industrial revolution was of a period of massive technological change and rapid economic growth that had failed to improve the condition of the working classes before 1850 despite the economy’s vast increases in economic productivity. John Hammond was a professional journalist and civil servant, while Barbara Hammond spent a great deal of time in the Public Record Office amassing evidence. They wrote well and their books became immensely popular between the wars and had a considerable impact on the development of social democracy and the labor movement in Britain.

Their best-known work is their Labour trilogy. The Village Labourer, 1760-1832: A Study in the Government of England Before the Reform Bill (1911), traced England’s agrarian transformation from the enclosure movements of the eighteenth century to the rural risings of 1830. In The Town Labourer: The New Civilization, 1760-1832 (1917) they told of the rise of a “new Civilization” that had added “the discipline of a power driven by competition that seemed as inhuman as the machines that thundered in the factory and shed” to the poverty of the old domestic system of production. They concluded that this revolution had “raised the standard of comfort of the rich,” but had “depressed the standard of life for the poor.” Moreover, they declared that the dislocation brought by the rise of modern industry had been made harsher by the ruling class’s fear of social and political revolution. This fear, often dressed in the gospel of evangelical religion, had added intensity to the war of the ruling classes against the workers’ efforts on behalf of political and social reform.

The Town Labourer, remains especially worth reading because of its gripping accounts of child labor, government repression, and the ideology of laissez faire that prevented effective social and economic reform during the period. In The Skilled Laborer, 1760-1832 (1919) they treated the efforts of workers, especially in the mining and textile industries, to improve their conditions, including the first well-documented account of the Luddite movement. The work of the Hammonds provided an account of the lives of the common people during the industrial revolution that was nearly as concrete as that of earlier literary critics of industrialization, such as Dickens, while their extensive documentation from printed and archival sources provided their pessimistic interpretation with the credibility of historical scholarship. While many of the particulars of their work have been seriously modified by later scholarship, their extensive use of lengthy quotations from a wealth of primary sources, and the moral power of their view, founded a vital tradition of scholarship that remains central to the subject.
Hobsbawm, E. J. Industry and Empire, from 1750 to the Present Day, rev. ed. New York: The New Press, 1999. Pp. xx, 412. 52 figs.

Eric J. Hobsbawm, the best-known Marxist historian in Britain, first published this one volume economic and social history of Britain in 1968. Its first five chapters provide a classic 1960’s British Labour and Socialist interpretation of the industrial revolution in Britain. As its title suggests, Hobsbawm argues that the British Empire was central to British industrialization. Although he sees foreign trade as crucial to the success of British industrialization, it is not clear whether the international trade of the period was a consequence of Britain’s Empire or that the expansion of the Empire in the 19th century was a consequence of Britain’s industrial revolution. Regardless of the answer to this question, Hobsbawm emphasizes that Britain’s industrial revolution must be seen in the context of its extensive international trade with many parts of the world and its use of imperial power. Hobsbawm is also the author of a widely read four-volume history of Europe within a worldwide historical perspective from the late 18th century to the end of the 20th century. Indeed, his treatment of the industrial revolution in Industry and Empire is quite similar to his discussion of industrialization in the first volume of his European history, The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848 (1962).

Hobsbawm argues that Britain was not only the first industrial nation, but played the major role in shaping the world’s capitalist economy in the 19th century. According to Hobsbawm: “There was a moment in the world’s history when Britain can be described …as its only workshop, its only massive importer and exporter, its only carrier, its only imperialist, almost its only foreign investor, and for that reason, its only naval power and the only one which had a genuine world policy.” While Hobsbawm’s rhetoric may be a bit too enthusiastic, his argument challenged historians to consider his argument that it was Britain’s growing international trade, both outside and within the Empire, which allowed Britain to become the first industrial nation. In addition to his important argument that it was the Empire that sparked the industrial revolution in Britain during the late 18th century and sustained it in the century that followed, Hobsbawm provides classic ‘new left’ arguments on such topics as the development of class-consciousness among the working classes, the debates about the connections between slavery and the industrial revolution, the economic interpretation of imperialism, the standard of living debate during industrialization before 1850, and the wider revolutionary implications of the British industrial revolution upon world history. This new edition was revised and updated by Chris Wrigley but retains broadly true to its original interpretations. The book also includes more than fifty interesting statistical tables, charts and an updated bibliography. Hobsbawm himself wrote an interesting new conclusion for this edition, which places Britain’s economic history in a late 20th century historical perspective.
Honeyman, Katrina, Women, Gender and Industrialisation in England, 1700-1870, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Pp. viii, 204.

With the exception of a few early pioneers, such as Ivy Pinchbeck and Alice Clark early in the 20th century, it was not until the 1970s that the role of gender and women in the Industrial Revolution became a serious topic of scholarly research. Katrina Honeyman’s synthesis of recent scholarship is a useful and accessible introduction to the roles of women and gender during the industrial revolution. She notes that her work is “feminist history” and argues convincingly that, not only was gender central to the making of the industrial revolution, but also that “industrialization was important to the making of gender” in Britain. She begins with a survey of the historiography of the subject and demonstrates that research on women and gender has given us a much broader understanding of the process of industrialization in Britain. Her survey of the literature points out that it is now no longer possible to explain the industrial revolution in Britain without acknowledging the key role played by female labor. While industrialization also had a very significant impact upon middle class gender formation, her treatment is almost entirely of gender issues in the working classes. She focuses upon the lives of workingwomen and upon the often-conflicting patterns of workingmen as they struggle to maintain their standing in society as machines devalue their traditional skills and they become, like many women, a source of cheap and easily replaceable labor. The result was that many trades unions actively opposed the entrance of women into formal and full-time employment in modern industries.

Her emphasis is on the classic period of industrialization from the late 18th century to the mid 19th century. Building upon the work of such contemporaries as Maxine Berg and Pat Hudson, she notes that universal conclusions about the economic experience of working-class women did not conform to one overall pattern. In addition to strong regional differences, as well as very the different experiences of workers in agriculture than in more urban environments, she notes that some women, especially young single women, benefitted by working with machines in the early factories before these jobs became much more exclusively male. Overall, she supports the conclusion in the literature that gender roles and women’s subordination became more rigid during the classic period of industrialization for workingwomen. Most of the book consists of a discussion of case studies of women’s work before and the changes, or lack of changes, brought by industrialization. In her final chapter she explores the impact of the growing ideals of domesticity promoted by both middle class reformers and male workers as they sought to push married women out of the formal labor force. Thus, one of the consequences of industrialization for Victorian working-class women was that there was a dramatic increase in employment for domestic labor and the growth of sweated labor as an adjunct to factory produced goods. The book contains a useful bibliography for further study.
Hoppit, Julian and E. A. Wrigley, eds. The Industrial Revolution, vols. 2 and 3: The Industrial Revolution in Britain. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1994.

This is part of a eleven volume encyclopedia on the Industrial revolution, which also includes volumes on pre-industrial Britain; the industrial revolutions in North America, Europe, and Japan; and on particular industries, such as textile, metal and engineering, coal and iron, and commercial and financial services. These volumes do not contain the usual encyclopedia style articles arranged alphabetically. Instead, these books, produced by the Economic History Society in Britain, contain important scholarly articles and chapters from volumes of essays and journals. Many of the articles included were written during the 1970s to early 1990s but there are also classic articles from earlier in the century. All are by recognized authorities in the field. The articles contain their original paginations well as continuous volume pagination. Since very few libraries have all the journals and books from which these essays are drawn, this is a very useful collection of well- chosen important essays, which allows the student to learn from the acknowledged experts on the subject and to appreciate the changing interpretations of the British industrial revolution.

Among the most important essays included in Vol. 2 are: D. Cannadine, “The present and the past in the English industrial revolution, 1880-1980 (1984)—a very useful historiographical article on the relationship between interpretations of the British industrial revolution and contemporary concerns; R. M. Hartwell, “The rising standard of living in England, 1800-1850” (1961)—the classic optimistic view on living standards of workers; E, J. Hobsbawm, “The British standard of living, 1790-1850 (1957)—the classic pessimistic view; E. P. Thompson, “Time, work discipline and industrial capitalism (1967)—the most famous discussion of the new discipline required by industrial capitalism from a Labour perspective; E. A. Wrigley, “the Growth of population in eighteenth century England: a conundrum resolved,” (1983) — Wrigley is the most important British demographic historian for this period; and Charles Wilson, “The entrepreneur in the industrial revolution in Britain (1955). Among the important articles in Vol. 3 are: R. C. Allen, “The growth of labour productivity in early modern English Agriculture”(1988); F. M. L. Thompson, “The second agricultural revolution, 1815-1880” (1968); E. A. Wrigley, “The supply of raw materials in the industrial revolution”(1962); D. S. Landes, “Technological change and economic development in western Europe, 1750-1914” (1965); R Samuel, “Workshop of the world: steam power and hand technology” (1967); N. McKendrick, “Josiah Wedgwood: an eighteenth century entrepreneur in salesmanship and marketing techniques” (1960); and Joel Mokyr, “Demand versus supply in the industrial revolution” (1977).
Hudson, P. The Industrial Revolution, London: Edward Arnold, 1992. Pp. xi, 244.

During the 1980s a new consensus appeared to be emerging among economic historians that the British industrial revolution, which had previously been pictured as a revolutionary transformation of the economic landscape between 1760 and 1830, should be replaced by a much more gradual process extending over a much longer period characterized by relatively slow rates of economic growth of no more than 3% per annum before 1830. In addition, many economic historians rejected the overall importance of the ‘modern industries’ during this period, such as textiles, mining and engineering, since they remained a relatively small part of the total economy during the period. Hudson does not directly disagree with the aggregate statistical evidence for Britain but suggests an alternative argument for why we should nonetheless see the classic period of the industrial revolutionary as having had a revolutionary impact. Hudson, a Professor of economic history at Liverpool University, has contributed widely to the scholarly literature on British industrialization with an emphasis on regional studies.

The first part of this very useful introductory survey of the British industrial revolution is an extensive historiographical review of the literature. The second, and larger, part argues that since industrialization, as traditionally understood, was largely confined to particular regions and industries during this period, aggregate statistics obscure the reality of dramatic change in some regions. For example, she notes that the growth of woolen textile production of 150% over the entire 18th century appears rather modest but the fact that Yorkshire’s share woolen textile production rose from 20% to 60% of national production demonstrates that the consequences were indeed revolutionary for that particular region. She makes a similar argument for revolutionary change in other modern industries when studied from a regional perspective. Moreover, she insists, that these dynamic regions and industries not only witnessed their own transformation in technology, the physical environment, the scale of enterprises, the social roles of owners and workers, demographic behavior and the place of the family and child and female labor in the economy, but encouraged new social and intellectual attitudes, patterns of trade, roles for the state, forms of politics, notions of class, and changes of social relations that eventually transformed the entire society. Her emphasis upon such social issues as the demography of labor, consumption patterns, and issues of class and gender lend further substance to her argument that the British industrial revolution produced dramatic changes in Britain’s economy and society during its classic period despite modest aggregate rates of growth. This is an important and readable introduction that emphasizes the social-cultural importance of the origin and consequences of the British industrial revolution.
Humphries, Jane, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xiii, 456.

This is a study of more than 600 autobiographies by men (working-class autobiographies by women do not appear to be available for the period) who lived through the British industrial revolution and later described their labor as children, childhoods, family and social connections, careers and schooling in an effort to search for historical patterns in the experience of industrialization by the workers. The study provides concrete and personal examples to demonstrate that “child labor was endemic in the early industrial economy, entrenched in both traditional and modern sectors and widespread geographically.” The evidence shows that there was a considerable upsurge of child labor during the classic era of industrialization between 1790 and 1850. However, it was not just found in the islands of modern production, such as the new factories, which provided the majority of jobs for children, but was also extensive in the more traditional sectors, with its customary methods of production in agriculture, small-scale manufacturing, and services. Indeed, the evidence shows that the increase use of child labor during the period was in large part a consequence of a deepening of the division of labor during the period, which helped sustain the traditional units and methods of production and maintained their competitiveness during the period. Examples of deskilling due to a greater division of labor come especially from trades such as shoemaking, saddle making and the toy trades. Nonetheless, she argues, since the factories were new, and thus could not draw upon an established labor force, child labor was essential to the growth of new factory based industrial production. Humphries notes that her work explicitly contradicts Kirby’s work (see below) that very young children’s labor was never widespread, since the rise of child labor during this period was especially a consequence of adding children under 10 years of age to the labor force, particularly in the factories.

These autobiographies support the widely held view that households in Britain were already nuclear during the period and were relatively small but growing during the period. High mortality, migration and significant celibacy meant that a large percentage of the population reached old age without kin to support them. She also shows that families were becoming increasingly dependent upon male wages well in advance of when male breadwinner wages were sufficient to support a family. Moreover, these autobiographies suggest that there were many families where he male breadwinner was not present or was not dependably present. The fact that mothers were not able to support a family by themselves was a major motivation for child labor. As Humphrey puts it: “hunger emerges in this survey as the primary motivators of children’s efforts.” An increase in child labor during this period of rapid population increase resulted in children shouldering “some of the increased dependency during the period and helped society evade the potentially devastating consequences of population increase.” This study also shed light on the amount and quality of education during the period, in contrast to the orthodox narrative of a slow but steady improvement in education during the period, the amount and quality of education stagnated and perhaps declined. Without the growth of the new Sunday Schools, night schools and other efforts to promote adult education, literary and numeracy rates would have probably fallen further during the classic period of industrialization. The book includes many useful statistical tables. While the author is very much aware that this period was one of war and rapid population increase, and that the evidence for this study comes from autobiographies—a category of sources that historians find problematical, the personal stories presented are fascinating and her general conclusions reinforces the widely held view that the period of classic industrialization was a difficult time for a large section of the common people and especially their children.
Inikori, Joseph E. Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Development, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xi, 576.

Inikori’s study is an important contribution to a long-standing debate about the economic connections between African slavery and the British industrial revolution. Although Marx had already suggested that the profits from African slavery were a contributing factor to the development of industrial capitalism, it was Eric Williams in his Capitalism and Slavery (1944) who was the chief source of the modern debate. Williams suggested that profits from the slave trade were an important contributing factor to the origin of the first industrial revolution, but he did not provide a broad scholarly foundation to make the argument persuasive. While much scholarship has been published on this topic since Williams, there has also been a great deal of ideological intensity about the issue that has limited the credibility of the argument that African slavery was a crucial contributor to the industrial revolution. Inikori’s substantial study has successfully placed Williams’ argument on a much more secure scholarly foundation, although his conclusions remains quite controversial because they are dependent upon the argument that international trade is a key explanation for the British industrial revolution. Traditional explanations of the British industrial revolution focus on the supply side factors, such as technological innovation, population growth, agricultural change, and capital formation. By contrast, Inikori identifies international trade as a prime cause of British industrialization. Using a theoretical concept from modern international development theory, he argues that import substitution was crucial to British industrialization.

Taking a broadly Atlantic view, Inikori argues that Britain’s extensive Atlantic trade system was heavily dependent upon Africa slavery during the period 1650 to 1850. It was not just the profits from the clave trade, as some have argued, that helped fuel British industrialization. Instead, Inikori explains that slavery was fundamental to the entire trade system. Slaves produced such important raw materials as cotton, tobacco, sugar, rice, and many other products, whose production were not only profitable in themselves, but these products were processed in England, served to develop manufacturing in England, and were widely re-exported to other countries. He notes that the technical innovation and dynamic manufacturing industries in the regional economies of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the West Midlands especially benefitted from their close connection to the Atlantic economy. For example, cotton constituted 2.9% of value added to British manufacturing in 1770 and 29.2% in 1831. In 1854-56, raw materials from Africa and the Americas constituted 43.3% of England’s imports. The bulk of these raw materials were produced by slave labor. Taking a broad view, he estimates that the export commodities produced by slaves in all of the Americas amounted to 69% in the 17th century, 80% in the 18th century and 70% by the mid 19th century The slave trade and the goods that slaves produced in America also had an important impact upon he development of Britain’s shipping industries, as well as on the growth of its financial and insurance services. In addition, Inikori notes that the growing demand for British exports in the Americas was dependent upon the growing wealth of American consumers, which in turn was heavily dependent upon wealth produced by slave labor. The book includes many interesting statistical tables and an extensive bibliography.

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