Editor’s introduction: The new economic history and the industrial revolution

Joel Mokyr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In the past years, there have been more and more voices that claim, to rephrase Coleman (1983), that the Industrial Revolution is “a concept too many.” 1 The feeling is that the term is either too vague to be of any use at all or that it produces false connotations of abrupt change comparable in its suddenness to the French Revolution. The main intellectual motive for this revision has been the growing (though not universally shared) consensus that economic growth in the early stages of the British Industrial Revolution was slower than had hitherto been supposed. The idea of the Industrial Revolution, however, predates its identification with economic growth by many decades. The revision of national income statistics should therefore not, in itself, be enough to abandon the concept. Yet revisionist social historians have found in those revisions the support to state categorically that “English society before 1832 did not experience an industrial revolution let alone an Industrial Revolution. … [Its] causes have been so difficult to agree on because there was no ‘Industrial Revolution,’ historians have been chasing a shadow” (Jonathan Clark, 1986, pp. 39, 66). Wallerstein (1989, p. 30) suggests amazingly that “technological revolutions occurred in the period 1550-1750, and after 1850, but precisely not in the period 1750-1850.” Cameron (1990, p. 563) phrases it even more vituperatively: “Was there an industrial revolution? The absurdity of the 2question is not that it is taken seriously but that the term is taken seriously … by scholars who should know better”.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe British Industrial Revolution
Subtitle of host publicationAn Economic Perspective
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages127
ISBN (Electronic)9780429963117
ISBN (Print)9780813333892
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


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