Historians face many problems when it comes to using the term “Industrial Revolution”. There is much debate and difficulty when is comes to defining it. It opens up many questions and there are many contributing factors and areas to consider. Can it be considered a revolution when it occurred over quite a long period of time? When did it start? What were the causes of it? Many historians have differing opinions on each question.
A revolution can be defined as “a sudden or grand change” (oxford dictionairies.com). Wordiq.com defined the Industrial revolution as “the massive social[->0], economic[->1], and technological[->2] change in the 18th century[->3] and 19th century[->4] within Great Britain,” This indicates that it was a grand change but not a sudden one. It was spread out over two centuries. There are two approaches that historians either support.
The first is the revolutionary approach. Writers, such as Deane and Cole (1967) saw the industrial revolution as a period of great expansion, and they said that there certainly was a rapid growth of production in leading sectors. They therefore supported the revolutionary approach. Rostow (1960) used the term “take off” when defining the industrial revolution. He believed that there was a take off phase within the country at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
The other approach is the gradualist approach. This approach obviously indicates that ii wasn’t has rapid and debates that it was more gradual. Crafts (1985) believed that it was a time of slow improvement therefore supporting the gradualist approach. He believed it was slower, particularly socially; standards of living and wages did not improve. He also claimed that modernisation in Britain was sluggish, because demand and consumption only grew very slow during the claimed period. Wrigley (2004) is also of the gradualist school of thought. He argues that fundamental changes did occur in certain areas but that it wasn’t seen all over the country.
A further debate concerns when the industrial revolution started. Most historians agree that it occurred during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century but no one date can actually be pinpointed as to when it all commenced. So was it the causes that started the industrial revolution and what were they?
Factories were being built and they were certainly on the up rise during the late eighteenth century. Cotton and textiles in general moved more to the factory setting and away from the domestic system. Hobsbawn (1968) is quoted as saying “that whoever says industrial revolution says cotton”.
Foster (1974) claims that the revolution began because of factories being built. To counteract Foster, Rule (1986) said that factories had existed before 1750 in isolated examples, which was pre-industrial revolution. This still doesn’t explain why the number of factories increased during the industrial revolution and whether they were the cause of the revolution.
Another possible explanation as to why the industrial revolution occurred is that it was during a time when inventions were popular. John Kay invented the Flying Wheel in 1733; this speeded up the process of weaving. In 1765 James Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny; that made spinning more efficient.
They were still manual items and they took time to be introduced to manufacturers and potential factory owners. Methods of powering them were invented next. Richard Arkwright was first to use a water frame to mechanise spinning. He opened up a factory in 1771 and was able to produce material at a much larger scale. They certainly contributed to the increase in factories at the time but did they cause the revolution?
Other historians believe it was steam power that caused the revolution. Inventors James Watt and Thomas Newcomen introduced the concept of steam to power machinery. They used coal to produce the steam. This made the machinery more efficient and increased production furthermore. Factories were also able to move away from sources of water and nearer places were coal was present. This method was put into action around 1785 when it was used to operate a spinning mill. So both water and coal and their use played a vital part in the revolution.
Regardless of what caused the industrial revolution there were some great innovations that contributed to its onset; but do they help us define the industrial revolution? Rule (1986) states that “to most people the essence of an industrial revolution lies in the transformation through technology of manufacturing and it’s reorganisation into the new factory mode.”
There are plenty of other areas to discuss about the industrial revolution, which can open up further debate. Other areas to consider include why it started in Britain first, did it occur in other industries? What changed socially for the people? Population increased rapidly over the period discussed. Did the industrial revolution occur to meet their needs? The debates can go on and on and thus explains why historians will always face problems when it comes to defining the term ‘the industrial revolution’.
Crafts, Nicholas F. R. (1985) British Economic Growth During the Industrial Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press
.Deane and Cole (1962) cited in Wrigley E.A. (2004) Poverty, Progress and Population. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Foster (1974) Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London
.Hobsbawn (1968) Industry and Empire. Penguin group, London.
Industrial revolution. http//www.wordiq.com/definition/industrial_revolution. Date accessed 14/10/2011 Revolution definition. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/revolution. Date accessed 14/10/2011
Rostow (1960) cited in Wrigley E.A. (2004) Poverty, Progress and Population. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Rule (1986) The labouring Classes in Early Industrial England 1750-1850. Longman Group, Harlow
Wrigley E.A. (2004) Poverty, Progress and Population. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
[->0] - http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Social [->1] - http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Economic [->2] - http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Technology [->3] - http://www.wordiq.com/definition/18th_century [->4] - http://www.wordiq.com/definition/19th_century