Cloth Britannia: A History-of-Technology Treatment of the Industrial Revolution

Cloth Britannia: A History-of-Technology Treatment of the Industrial Revolution

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This water-frame for spinning cotton is often considered an invention of Richard Arkwright, and in fact this image comes from his 1769 patent specification.

This book-length treatment of the British Industrial Revolution in textile production in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries makes use of basic methods and current theories and approaches in the history of technology in order to argue that invention is not a very useful concept for understanding technological change. Instead, the use and adoption of changing technologies reveals more about how economics, demographics, labor arrangements, and global trade relationships; laws and institutions; and society and culture shift around technological changes in order to make new machines and methods work. It sees technological change as at once the cause and the effect of social transformations (where “social” stands in for the rest of the context surrounding the hardware). It also compares the classic case of the Industrial Revolution to the ongoing transformations of the digital age.

Barbara Hahn will also be working with the collaborating scholars on the “Moving Crops” project, which uses agriculture as a lens for writing new global histories as part of the Scale and Scope working group.