The Industrial Revolution in World History

By Peter N. Stearns | Go to book overview
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Britain's Revolution: New Processes and Economic Transformation

Before the eighteenth century the most advanced economies in the world featured a combination of craft manufacturing (its most skilled components based in cities) and a large labor force committed to agriculture. Most production, both manufacturing and agricultural, was based on manual household labor, with larger village groups combining for certain operations like harvesting and road building. The use of slave crews for commercial production of key agricultural goods like sugar and tobacco had spread, particularly in the Americas, though there were no major changes in technology. Several societies had developed sophisticated craft skills for the production of luxury cloth, metal goods, and other items. China, Japan, India, the Middle East (including North Africa), and western Europe stood at the forefront in terms of artisanal technology and the vital capacity to produce iron and iron products. Africa had a well-established ironworking tradition, and metallurgy and armaments manufacturing were advancing in Russia by 1700.

West European technology had gained decisive ground from the fifteenth century onward. Western production of guns, based on earlier skills in ironworking developed initially for the production of great church bells, provided a crucial military edge, particularly in naval conflicts. Western metallurgy generally led the world by the sixteenth century. During the seventeenth century growing dominance in world trade spurred the growth of textile production in many parts of western Europe, and here too technological refinements occurred that made the West effectively an international leader. Western biases concerning the rest of the world began to take on a technological cast, with scorn for the many peoples slow to imitate Western developments. A Western missionary in the seventeenth cen

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