The British Industrial Revolution: An Economic Perspective

By Joel Mokyr | Go to book overview

1
Editor's Introduction:
The New Economic History
and the Industrial Revolution

Joel Mokyr


The Industrial Revolution — a Useful Abstraction

In the past years, there have been more and more voices that claim, to rephrase Coleman ( 1983), that the Industrial Revolution is "a concept too many." 1 The feeling is that the term is either too vague to be of any use at all or that it produces false connotations of abrupt change comparable in its suddenness to the French Revolution.The main intellectual motive for this revision has been the growing (though not universally shared) consensus that economic growth in the early stages of the British Industrial Revolution was slower than had hitherto been supposed. The idea of the Industrial Revolution, however, predates its identification with economic growth by many decades. The revision of national income statistics should therefore not, in itself, be enough to abandon the concept. Yet revisionist social historians have found in those revisions the support to state categorically that "English society before 1832 did not experience an industrial revolution let alone an Industrial Revolution.... [Its] causes have been so difficult to agree on because there was no ' Industrial Revolution,' historians have been chasing a shadow" ( Jonathan Clark, 1986, pp. 39, 66). Wallerstein ( 1989, p. 30) suggests amazingly that "technological revolutions occurred in the period 1550-1750, and after 1850, but precisely not in the period 1750-1850." Cameron ( 1990, p. 563) phrases it even more vituperatively: "Was there an industrial revolution? The absurdity of the

____________________
This essay is a completely revised and largely rewritten version of my introduction to an earlier collection (Mokyr, 1985a). I am indebted to Gregory Clark, Stanley Engerman, C. Knick Harley, David Landes and Rick Szostak for comments on an earlier version. The second edition was much improved thanks to Tom Geraghty and Peter Meyer.
1
Among those, see especially E.L. Jones ( 1988, pp. 13-27); Clive Lee ( 1986, pp. 21-22).

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The British Industrial Revolution: An Economic Perspective
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The British Industrial Revolution - An Economic Perspective *
  • Contents *
  • Tables and Figures *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • 1: Editor's Introduction *
  • 2: The Fable of the Dead Horse; Or, the Industrial Revolution Revisited *
  • 3: Reassessing the Industrial Revolution *
  • 4: Too Much Revolution *
  • 5: The Role of Education and Skill in the British Industrial Revolution *
  • Bibliography *
  • About the Book *
  • About the Contributors *
  • Index *
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