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British industrialization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

British industrialisation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

(Dr L Shaw-Taylor and Dr S Horrell)


Until very around 1800 economic growth was the exception not the rule and all economies were very poor by today’s standards. Malthusian pressures were the norm and increases in population were normally accompanied by declines in living standards.  The Industrial Revolution saw the British economy escape from Malthusian constraints and marks the world’s first transition to modern economic growth.  The course considers the processes by which Britain became the first nation to overcome growth constraints and embark on a path of sustained expansion of per capita income. It looks at the roles played by structural change, new sources of energy and raw materials, agricultural improvement, high wages, new technology, changes in labour supply and much else.  The course covers key debates both on the causes of industrialisation and the consequences for the people who lived through it. It looks at the following main topics: 

  1. Industrialisation – introduction to the course.
  2. Explaining the population explosion.
  3. Quantifying Economic Growth
  4. The agricultural revolution
  5. Explaining technological change
  6. An Industrious Revolution?
  7. Industrialisation and women - implications for the measurement of welfare
  8. Industrialisation and the standard of living - qualitative assessments and quantification

Aims of the course

The aims of this course are to introduce students to the main debates, conceptual tools and empirical findings that are central to understanding British economic history during the Industrial Revolution.

Objectives of the course

By the end of this course students should have acquired a good understanding of the key debates surrounding Britain's industrialisation and the welfare implications of the changes that occurred. They should be familiar with the various methodologies and data sources employed and have knowledge of recent empirical findings.