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September 27, 2006

Industrialization Rocks My World

Yesterday in the lecture for the class I'm teaching, Britain industrialized. I looked forward to it all day. Yes, I know I'm a geek, but I just love the way this professor presents industrialization. She shatters everything our students learned about the Industrial Revolution in high school. She begins with the Agricultural Revolution and the enclosure movement, which created a huge body of rural people who, for the first time ever, had to work for wages in order to get by. At the same time, urban merchants (the example used was a wool merchant) were looking for a new workforce because the urban craftspeople were increasingly organized and demanding. Rural workers could be paid less because they were dispersed, disorganized, and desperate, and the system of cottage industry was born: middlement brought the wool to rural households, where it was carded, spun, and eventually woven. Disorganized labor was docile, but merchants and middlemen soon found that they could organize labor to their own advantage -- they could exert greater control over labor -- by bringing it into a central location: the factory. Popular understandings of the Industrial Revolution begin with the development of the steam engine, and move from there to factories powered by steam. But the professor I'm working with stresses that industry did not require technological innovation. Rather, the factory itself, the concentration of labor in one location to make it more productive and easily controlled, was the innovation; the factory was the new technology. She also compares factories to ships and slave plantations: two other eighteenth-century sites of highly regimented and controlled labor. What I love about this explanation of industrialization is that it focuses on the human -- the profit motive; the need to work; the desire for control.

Posted by eklanche at September 27, 2006 11:43 AM

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