Some Thoughts about The Mill and the Depiction of Capitalism’s History

7 08 2013

I enjoyed the first episode of The Mill,  a period drama set inside a British cotton mill in 1831. I thought that the show’s depiction of business was pretty balanced.  I had feared that the mill owners would be depicted in entirely negative terms. The script writers avoided caricature in favour of a more nuanced account.  Moreover,  the exploitation of the girls in the mill is at the hands of a low-ranking manager, a shop foreman,  not the capitalists themselves.

I also liked that the dialogue referred to the positive impact factory production had on consumers: thanks to mechanization, ordinary workers could now afford more than a few articles of clothing.  Too many of the other films about the plight of workers during industrialisation do not answer the counterfactual of what life would be like today without industrialisation!

 There is, of course, nothing more hypocritical than a TV show that attacks the Industrial Revolution.

Why did the industrial revolution take off in the UK rather than in China?

13 01 2013

Tim Harford is one of my favourite journalists. Every so often he puts a bit of economic history into his articles for the Financial Times. I can’t say that I complain. 

In a recent piece, he summarizes some of the recent literature on the Great Divergence and the debate about why the Industrial Revolution began in Western Europe rather than East Asia. Drawing on a book by Robert C. Allen, Harford suggests that the development of labour-saving technologies in England was driven by the fact that 18th century English were unusually high in global terms.

What  Harford says here won’t be news to anyone who follows the economic-historical literature. However, it is great to see good research is being popularized in this way. 



What were the Cultural Causes of the Industrial Revolution?

9 04 2010

That is the theme of a course for PhD students being held in Sweden in October. If I were still a grad student, I would definitely apply to attend.  Since I’m not, I’m going to content myself with reading Joel Mokyr’s new book The enlightened economy: an economic history of Britain, 1700-1850. It’s on my summer reading list.

Anyway, PhD students and supervisors should check out this announcement.


The Department of Economic History,
School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg,
invites you to the Ph.D.-course

Ideologies, Ideas, and Values during the Industrial Revolution
(11-15 October 2010)

The course will be taught by Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, Distinguished Profes
sor of Economics, History, English, and Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Guest Professor, School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg.


Why was Europe the first region to develop economically and why did Britain lead among the European nations?  Recent years have seen a number of important contributions to the field of economic history trying to deal with the issue from new perspectives, using new empirical evidence. The course will study some of scholarly contributions. The issue of ideologies, ideas, and bourgeois values will be an important theme. That is, can the modern world
be explained in merely material terms?  Or do ideas matter!

Participants are expected to write short reviews of the books on the reading list, to be discussed in class in the morning of each day of the course.
Participants will also present a paper on their own research in afternoon seminars, and get feedback from other participants of the course and from Professor McCloskey.

Practical information

The course is open for Ph.D. students in history, economic history, and economics and similar disciplines within social science and the humanities.  The course will take place at the School of Business, Economics and Law in
Gothenburg, Sweden.

There is no fee for participating in the course. The Department will furthermore arrange (and pay for) lodging and lunches during the course, and provide a travel grant to, participating Ph.D. students. The Department will also host an opening reception, and a dinner the last night of the course. Participants are expected to attend during the whole week.

Applications for participation in the course should be sent latest 15 May 2010 by mail to Klas Ronnback, Dept. of economic history, University of Gothenburg: Applicants should give a short description of the research field of their doctoral thesis. Since the number of participants will be limited, a selection may be necessary. The result from such selection will be sent to the applicants by the end of May.

Reading list

Robert Allen (2009): The British industrial revolution in global perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Jack Goldstone (2009): Why Europe? The rise of the West in world history, 1500-1850. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Deirdre McCloskey (2010): Bourgeois Dignity: Why economics can’t explain
the modern world. Forthcoming, October.
Joel Mokyr (2009): The enlightened economy: an economic history of Britain,
1700-1850. New Haven: Yale UP.
Jan Luiten van Zanden (2009): The long road to the industrial revolution: the European economy in a global perspective, 1000-1800. Leiden: Brill.
Joyce Appleby (2010): The relentless revolution: A history of capitalism (New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010)

Professor Christer Lundh
Klas Ronnback
Department of Economic history
University of Gothenburg
Box 720, SE- 405 30 Göteborg
Phone: + 46 31-7734520

Why Was The Industrial Revolution British?

15 10 2009

In a new book, The Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, Robert C. Allen tackles one of the big questions in history, namely, “why did the industrial revolution take place in 18th century Britain and not somewhere in Continental Europe or East Asia?”  Allen’s answer to this important question should concern those of us who study the history of North America, since the Industrial Revolution helps to explain, inter alia, why English became the dominant language on this continent. His book will interest economic historians, historians of science and technology, and many others.

Coalbrookdale at Night, 1801

Coalbrookdale at Night, 1801

You can watch Allen talk about this book here. The video incorporates a powerpoint presentation with some really good images.

Dr Allen is a member of the Royal Society of Canada, btw.