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Industrial Revolution

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The causes of the Industrial Revolution were complex and remain a topic for debate, with some historians seeing the Revolution as an outgrowth of social and institutional changes wrought by the end of feudalism in Great Britain after the English Civil War in the 17th century. The Enclosure movement and the British Agricultural Revolution made food production more efficient and less labor-intensive, forcing the surplus population who could no longer find employment in agriculture into the cities to seek work in the newly developed factories. The colonial expansion of the 17th century with the accompanying development of international trade, creation of financial markets and accumulation of capital are also cited as factors, as is the scientific revolution of the 17th century.

The presence of a large domestic market should also be considered an important catalyst of the Industrial Revolution, particularly explaining why it occurred in Britain. In other nations, such as France, markets were split up by local regions, which often imposed tolls and tariffs on goods traded among them.

Why Europe?

One question of active interest to historians is why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Europe and not other parts of the world, particularly China. Numerous factors have been suggested, including ecology, government, and culture. Benjamin Elman argues that China was in a high level equilibrium trap in which the nonindustrial methods were efficient enough to prevent use of industrial methods with high costs of capital. Kenneth Pommeranz, in the Great Divergence, argues that Europe and China were remarkably similar in 1700, and that the crucial differences which created the Industrial Revolution in Europe were: sources of coal near manufacturing centres and raw materials such as food and wood from the New World, which allowed Europe to expand economically in a way that China could not. Indeed, a combination of all of these factors is possible.

Why did it start in Great Britain?

The debate around the concept of the initial startup of the Industrial Revolution also concerns the lead of 30 to 100 years that the British had over the continental European countries and America. Some have stressed the importance of natural or financial resources that the United Kingdom received from its many overseas colonies or that profits from the British slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean helped fuel industrial investment.

Alternatively, the greater liberalisation of trade from a large merchant base may have been able to utilise scientific and technological developments emerging in the United Kingdom and elsewhere more effectively than other countries with stronger monarchies, such as China and Russia. Great Britain emerged from the Napoleonic Wars as the only European nation not ravaged by financial plunder and economic collapse, as well as possessing the only merchant fleet of any useful size (European merchant fleets having been destroyed during the war by the Royal Navy). The United Kindom's extensive exporting cottage industries also ensured markets were already open for many forms of early manufactured goods. The nature of conflict in the period resulted in most British warfare being conducted overseas, reducing the devastating effects of territorial conquest affecting much of Europe. This was further aided by Britain's geographical position - an island separated from the rest of mainland Europe.

Another theory believes that Great Britain was able to succeed in the Industrial Revolution due to the availability of key resources it processed. It had a dense population for its small geographical size. Enclosure of common land and the related Agricultural revolution made a supply of this labour readily available. There was also a local coincidence of natural resources in the North of England , the English Midlands, South Wales and the Scottish Lowlands. Local supplies of coal, iron, lead, copper, tin, limestone and water power, gave excellent conditions for the development and expansion of industry.

The stable political situation in Great Britain from around 1688, and British society's greater receptiveness to change (when compared with other European countries) can also be said to be factors favouring the Industrial Revolution.

Protestant work ethic

Another theory is that the British advance was due to the presence of an entrepreneurial class which believed in progress, technology and hard work.1 The existence of this class is often linked to the Protestant work ethic and the particular status of dissenting Protestant sects, such as the Quakers, Baptists and Presbyterians that had flourished with the Civil War. Reinforcement of confidence in the rule of law, which followed the establishment of the prototype of constitutional monarchy in Great Britain in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the emergence of a stable financial market there based on the management of the national debt by the Bank of England, contributed to the capacity for, and interest in, private financial investment in industrial ventures.

Dissenters found themselves barred or discouraged from almost all public offices as well as University education at Oxford and Cambridge, when the restoration of the monarchy took place and membership in the official Anglican church became mandatory due to the Test Act. They became active in banking, manufacturing and the Unitarians in particular, were much involved in education by running Dissenting Academies, where, in contrast to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and schools such as Eton and Harrow, much attention was given to mathematics and the sciences -- area of scholarship vital to the development of manufacturing technologies.

Historians sometimes consider this social factor to be extremely important, along with the nature of the national economies involved. While members of these sects were excluded from certain circles of the government, they were considered as fellow Protestants, to a limited extent, by many in the middle class, such as traditional financiers or other businessmen. Given this relative tolerance and the supply of capital, the natural outlet for the more enterprising members of these sects would be to seek new opportunities in the technologies created in the wake of the Scientific revolution of the 17th century.

Criticism of the Calvinism hypothesis

This argument has, on the whole, tended to neglect the fact that several inventors and entrepreneurs were rational free thinkers or "Philosophers" typical of a certain class of British intellectuals in the late 18th century, and were by no means normal church goers or members of religious sects. Examples of these



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