Rehabilitating the Industrial Revolution

In their article titled Rehabilitating the Industrial Revolution, Maxine Berg and Pat Hudson argued against the idea that change occurred gradually during the Industrial Revolution. They studied four areas in order to determine that fundamental change actually occurred rapidly during the revolution, which according to Steven Beaudoin started in the 1750s and continued into the late nineteenth century. The areas were: technical and organizational innovation outside the factory sector, the deployment of female and child labor, regional specialization and demographic development. Further, they identified problems of underestimation and of measurement of fundamental change in an article by N.F.S. Crafts.

Berg and Hudson first examined the area of technical and organizational innovation. They critiqued a study by Crafts whom they wrote has been the most widely influential in current assumptions of gradual growth during the industrial revolution. “Crafts calculated that change in investment proportions was very gradual until the early nineteenth century […]. (27). They wrote that in his work, Crafts argued that the cotton industry constituted about half of productivity gains in manufacturing and that it was wrong to consider innovativeness as being pervasive. Berg and Hudson countered that the assumption that the innovative factory sector functioned independently from changes in the rest of the service and manufacturing economy was false. Further, they wrote that the assumption that innovation concerned only capital-intensive equipment which [had] an immediate measurable impact on productivity” was also false. (28) They wrote, “The non-factory, supposedly stagnant sector, often working primarily for domestic markets, pioneered extensive and radical technical and organizational change not recognized by the revisionsists. (31) They also argued the success of cotton and other major exports were dependent on innovation s and transformation in other sectors. Further they argued that “Changes in market and in the competitive climate had an impact on all English capitalists whether they were metropolitan, or provincial] (?)

The two authors were also critical of the source which Craft and others received their information. They argued that the potential for error in the occupational tables of Lindert and Williamson was great, especially in terms of accounting for women and children. “Lindert and Williamson rely on the burial records of adult males as their main source of occupational information. Yet women and children were a vital and growing pillar of the manufacturing workforce during the proto-industrial and early industrial periods.” (28) The role of women and children who worked long hours for low wages probably reached a peak during the industrial revolution, which made it a unique period. “The analyses based only on adult male labor forces are clearly inadequate and distorting,” they wrote. (?)

Berg and Hanson also said the measurement of many gradualists such as craft because they relied on national rather than local and regional statistics. Regional statistics, they argued would demonstrate a more rapid growth than national statistics.

They also wrote that it was also important to understand demographic development to understand economic growth. They wrote, “Accurate identification of the mainsprings of aggregate demographic trends will only come with regional, sect oral, and class breakdowns because different sorts of workers or social groups within different regional cultures probably experienced different stimuli or reacted differently to the same economic trends, thus creating a range of demographic regimes.” (40) Apparently this was another area the gradualists failed to consider.

In conclusion, the authors heavily critiqued the work of N.F.S Crafts and others who supported the notion that gradual rather than rapid economic growth occurred during the Industrial Revolution. By critiquing the gradualists, they hoped to rehabilitate the idea that economic growth occurred rapidly. They wrote that the gradualists underestimated growth by looking at tables that excluded women and children. Further they added that the gradualists measured growth incorrectly because they looked at national statistics rather than regional and local statistics. They asserted that by examining regional specialization and demographic development at the regional and local levels one would obtain more accurate statistics that would inevitable support the notion of rapid economic growth during the industrial revolution.