Analyzing advancements in the textile industry

Why Britain?

The Industrial Revolution as it has been described in Eurocentric historical analyses began in Britain during the late eighteenth century, with advancements in the textile industry. However, English imperialism and colonialism patterns are what provided the new market in raw materials that spawned the revolutionary technologies of the English Industrial Revolution (Marks, 96). Profiting off its colonies, England was able to amass the capital needed to invest in new industrial equipment, and also to have access to global markets to stimulate demand for mass produced textiles. Yet England also carefully controlled its supply and demand, preventing the colonies it exploited for natural resources from adopting the revolutionary technology. As a result, the Industrial Revolution did not spread to places like India or China even though those were both regions that had dominated manufacturing and production for centuries prior (Marks, 97). Whereas India and China previously retained a competitive advantage due to their larger labor forces and consumer markets, Englands power to create new tariff schemeseconomic protectionismare what prevented even the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, India, from reaping the rewards of its own textile and cotton industry (Marks, 98). Britain therefore leveraged its position as colonial leader and imperialist power, using its extensive global trade network and military might to dominate world trade, control the global marketplace, and protect its own burgeoning industrial development. As Kreis also points out, the industrial revolution was about much more than the factory model and the mechanized means of mass production. The Industrial Revolution transformed the geo-political landscape forever.

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Why Didnt The Industrial Revolution Spread?

One of the main reasons why the Industrial Revolution did not spread rapidly into Russia, China, and India is because of British protectionism. However, there are other reasons why the Industrial Revolution remained confined to Britain and North America. One reason is that traditional Indian textile industries now faced newfound competition with the mass produced textiles being made in England (World of History 801). Although India was the source for cotton and other textile raw materials, India had no means of competing with Britain in terms of manufacturing prowess. Not only could textiles and other goods be produced more rapidly, more efficiently, and at an even lower cost; those goods were also positioned on the marketplace as being more technologically advanced and therefore more desirable to the market. India was then made to appear rather primitive, and the idea grew that its proper role was to provide raw materials for western industry, (Pacey, World of History, 802). The situation grew worse for India, to the point where Britain was selling back to India finished products made with the subcontinents own raw materialsa similar situation which later arose during the Opium War era in China (Pacey, World of History, 802). Domestic industrial development in India could not have competed with the rapidity of growth taking place in England during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. England simply cornered the market of industrial development, and thereby squelched competition.

The situation in China was different. Whereas Britains protectionism and its ability to monitor and manage Indian industrial development prevented the subcontinent from competing, China could have become a major world player. China had all the potential features for having a competitive industrial revolution: free market systems, the ability of people to migrate throughout a large land mass, age-old material resources and manufacturing sectors, and participation in established trade routes. Low-cost labor also provided the means by which China would have otherwise been able to grow a middle class that fueled a new industrialized economy had it evolved the technology to do so. Pomeranz, as well as Pacey, claim that the steam engine was one of the main differences between England and other major players like India and China. Without the need to develop a steam engine, China had no use for a steam engine, and no reason to overcome the huge cost of getting coal to the lower Yangtze, (Pomeranz, 1). China had been heavily dependent on importing New World raw materials, but unlike England, failed to create the policy infrastructure that enabled it to protect its own manufacturing sector (Pomeranz 1). The same was true for India, which is another reason why the Industrial Revolution remained confined mainly to Western Europe.

The case of Russia may be even more complex than that of India or even China. Russias industrial progress was little more than window dressing, according to World of History (824). Unlike China or India, Russia had long been connected to Europe culturally and diplomatically, and Russia had also been adopting some of the industrial advancements taking place in the West. In fact, the West started to invest more heavily into Russia at the early onset of the Industrial Revolution (World of History 825). To gain an edge on global markets, Russia became amenable to establishing trans-continental railroads. Russias unwillingness to completely adopt Englands model of Industrial advancement can be attributed to significant social and political elements such as the relationship between the government and the private sector. Whereas Englands government saw tremendous opportunity in fostering a robust private sector, Russias elite did not. The French Revolution seemed to drive Russia even more to cling to its aristocracy, which would eventually lead to its own Communist Revolution the he early twentieth century. Russias expansive territory, suspicion of outsiders and of widespread policy change, and its largely agricultural base made it more like China and thus not an early taker to the Industrial Revolution. The United States, however, and its liberal political culture, led to a rapid embrace of the Industrial Revolution.

The discovery of fossil fuels and the steel industries became the eventual cornerstones of the Industrial Revolution during its late nineteenth century heyday. Although the oil reserves discovered throughout the Middle East might have helped the former Ottoman colonies participate fully in the Industrial Revolution, French and British domination of these regions, plus weak local governance, prevented this from happening.

Impact of the Industrial Revolution on World History

The Industrial Revolution impacted political, economic, and social realities around the world. Mass production of textiles and other consumer goods required a new model of corporate enterprise, leading to a new type of capitalist system. Capitalism in turn gave rise to the flattening of social hierarchies that had once dominated Englands socioeconomic landscape. Whereas previous incarnations of capitalism had existed in global societies, the Industrial Revolution represented a transition from a trade-based economy to a manufacturing-based economy, a difference that meant an enormous increase in productivity, profits, and prosperity, (World of History 800). Prior to the Industrial Revolution, China and India had dominated the worlds manufacturing concerns but the Industrial Revolution shifted the worlds economic balance of power.

Most significantly for the countries that evolved industrial technologies like England, the Industrial Revolution gave rise to a middle class, and occurred concurrently with Enlightenment political philosophies (Kreis 1). Primary source documents reveal the profound impact of the Industrial Revolution on social and political realities. Initial enthusiasm for unbridled industrial development would eventually give way to the shocking realities of pollution and unsafe working conditions. For instance, the Colby source on the Peterloo Massacre and the Del Col explanation of the life of the industrial worker in nineteenth century England show howchild labor and other means of labor exploitation helped catapult England to the top of the Industrial Revolution. England had also long been willing and able to borrow, adapt, and take information about ancient Chinese and Indian manufacturing traditions and apply those to their own industrial exploits. Pomeranz, for example, notes how Britains bridge-building industry owes tribute to its Chinese predecessors (805).

Moreover, there were newfound social realities concurrent with the Industrial Revolution. As Pomeranz points out, the Industrial Revolution led to new divisions of labor. Divisions of labor have always existed in human societies, but the Industrial Revolution made it so that labor became more highly specialized than ever before, with strict gender differentiation. Industrialization led to urbanization, too, which radically changed the nature of agricultural production. Although the Industrial Revolution started with textile industries and then spread into other sectors of manufacturing such as massive public works projects, it also spilled over into agricultural technologies that mechanized food production. This allowed more and more former farmers to move to urban centers. The same phenomenon was not taking place in China or in Russia. A combination of political, economic, and social changes taking place during the Industrial Revolution eventually led to communist ideology and the Russian Revolution. Similarly, the ongoing and unabashed exploitation of African territories, territories in the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East led to decades of anti-colonial sentiment and the independence movements that characterized the early and middle twentieth century.


Colby, Charles W. ed., Selections from the Sources of English History, B.C. 55 – A.D. 1832 (London: Longmans, Green, 1920), pp. 298-300

Del Col, Laura. The Life of the Industrial Worker in Ninteenth-Century England. Victorian Web.

Kreis, Steven. The Origins of the Industrial Revolution in England. The History Guide.

Marks, Robert B. The Origins of the Modern World. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Pomeranz, Kenneth.The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. The Princeton Economic History of the Western World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

World of History.

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