British Economic and Social History, 1700-1880

Course Material 2021/22

This paper covers the economic, social and cultural history of Britain from 1700 to 1880. This period saw more dramatic and fundamental changes in the lives of the population than any previous period of similar, or indeed much longer length. At the heart of economic change was the Industrial Revolution, generally seen by economic historians as the world’s first transition to sustained economic growth. The Industrial Revolution ushered in a new world, in which both technological change and economic growth were, for the first time, continuous and sustained long-term. Industrialisation soon spread to parts of Europe, North America and Japan. The extraordinary inequalities in average incomes and political power which characterise the modern world are overwhelmingly the product of differences in when or whether industrialisation began. Industrialisation created a world in which mass poverty was no longer inevitable, but an outcome of political choices. But how did it all begin and why? What were the roles of: ideas, institutional or political reforms, imperialism, capitalism, geography, culture, and of female and child workers? You will explore the revolutionary changes in industry, technology, energy use and transport, as well as changes in consumption, the transition to the world’s first urban society, rising life expectancies, the unprecedented population explosion, the evolution of poverty, welfare provision, child labour, and much more.

Economic changes were accompanied by – and both caused and shaped – social and cultural continuities and changes, whose exploration is also central to Paper 10. What changes were there in: the manners and sensibilities of affluent or upwardly mobile classes, the gap between elite and popular culture, the literacy and education of the poor, or in national and ethnic identities, gender roles and sexual relationships? How did art and literature comment on the dynamism and perils of this rapidly transforming society? How were the conflicts between 'haves' and 'have-nots' accommodated or contained? The histories of class consciousness, riot, and crime are on offer here.

This paper will also introduce you to the profound disagreements amongst historians about both what actually happened and why it happened, and the fragile and incomplete evidential material upon which historians draw when they write economic, social and cultural history, trying to reconstruct the lives and experiences of millions of men, women and children across a stratified social hierarchy, living and working in hamlets, villages, towns and cities in different regions. In conjunction with the paper British political  history 1688-1886 you will get a richly patterned view of the period.





For further information please follow the link below.

Page credits & information



Section notice

This material is intended for current students but will be interesting to prospective students. It is indicative only.