An Economic History of Modern England

An Economic History of Modern England

An Economic History of Modern England

An Economic History of Modern England

Excerpt

The past ten years, bringing a succession of crises, for which all manner of alleged remedies have been proposed or administered, have shown better than formal argument the importance of economic history. Regrettably, only when health is impaired does clinical history command attention; only then does the past interest the patient or deeply concern the diagnostician. Admittedly this interest in clinical history is belated, but when hearts, livers, or lungs, function reasonably well, no charts are kept; hence when trouble comes nothing but memory can supply the diagnostician with vitally important data. Fortunately, the clinical history of a nation's economic life needs not be recreated in memory's inconstant and uncertain fashion; it can be and largely has been ferreted out by that patient tribe of scholars who year by year fill library shelves with specialized monographs. In these formidable special studies are contained the fever charts, the weight tables, and the growth curves of parts of a nation's changing economic body.

Yet to ask students of economic history to go to the secondary sources on dozens and dozens of topics before some general condensation has first been offered them is scarcely cricket. Not that a general book can ever take the place of the monographs; actually the purpose of the general book should be just the reverse: it should indicate the imperative need of going not only to secondary but to primary sources. With this constantly in mind, I have documented pretty heavily, not to impress critics, but to indicate to college undergraduates precisely where they can find further material on the manifold segments of Britain's economic history. I have had to pick and choose, for the simple reason that monographs, like palatable, old-fashioned cheeses, vary in quality. No doubt I have made mistakes, but I often do that with cheese also, and in both cases decisions must be made.

This is pretty much an economic history of nineteenth-century Britain, with something of a background and something of a . . .

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