The Industrial Revolution in World History

By Peter N. Stearns | Go to book overview

16
Conclusion

Since its inception, the industrial revolution has raised vital issues of analysis. While these issues have changed as the technology and organization associated with the revolution have advanced and as additional societies have been drawn into the process, historical assessment remains essential not simply to understand the past but to grasp what the industrial economy now is and what its implications are. Causation remains a fundamental concern. Explaining why Britain or Japan generated an industrial revolution remains a challenging historical exercise. Explaining what basic factors were involved and how they might be replicated even today merges history with contemporary concerns. Asking why some societies continue to face difficulties in making a turn to industrialization (or why some societies may not wholeheartedly wish an industrial revolution because of its threat to their more important values) involves a serious understanding of what causation has entailed for the past 200 years.


Precedent as Guide to Prediction

Since the industrial revolution spread from Britain to other parts of Europe and then well beyond, a balance between commonality and diversity has been central to comparative analysis: this, too, continues to be true. All industrial revolutions have had some essential common features. They obviously involved not only massive technological and organizational change but also redefinition of family function and alteration of the nature of work and leisure. Cities invariably grew and agricultural groups were reassessed, their status diminished though usually amid persistent clamor. Yet industrial revolutions also varied greatly. They differed according to geography and available resources. They differed according to timing--latecomers inevitably emphasized different features from earlier industrializers, and some of these distinctions have proved long lasting. They differed,

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