Proto-Industrialization Thesis

Proto-Industrialization Thesis-50
Indeed, proto-industrialization has never attained the status of being “the” solution to anything, since it has remained controversial.Thirdly, out of a dozen other recent publications, Professor Stone singles out one particularly polemical and even sarcastic contribution by Professor Coleman to draw the conclusion that “Proto-industrialization, in short, seems to have been neither a sufficient, nor even a necessary, cause of industrial revolution.” In fact, proto-industrialization has never been presented as a “sufficient” cause of industrial revolution; even a superficial acquaintance with the economic history of the Industrial Revolution will make it at once clear that there were many regions of Europe whose handloom weaving and other rural part-time peasant industries disappeared without any factory industry to replace them locally.

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The questions raised by proto-industrialization have now begun to interest a few African, Japanese, and early American historians as well.

Professor Stone, in a review of some fourteen books, only one of which is devoted to proto-industrialization, gives in passing a simplified and misleading impression to the readers of this Review of what is really involved in this debate and controversy.

First, regarding the causes of the Industrial Revolution, it is misleading to say that the theory of proto-industrialization “for almost a decade has seemed the solution.” To most scholars, proto-industrialization has never been more than a plausible and interesting set of hypotheses, in need of yet more data.

That, together with its wide-ranging implications, is in fact what has made it exciting and fruitful.

Franklin Mendels University of Maryland (Baltimore County) Catonsville, Maryland Professor Mendels’s letter gives me an opportunity to correct an error in my published article.

He is, so far as I can discover, the originator of the word and idea of proto-industrialization, which was only later taken up by the Germans at Göttingen.

“Proto-industrialization” refers to the regional growth of market-oriented rural industry and contemporaneous agricultural growth in the 17th and 18th centuries, during the decades that preceded the Industrial Revolution.

The theories that accompany this concept have stimulated a considerable amount of research and debate in the last few years among European economic, social, family and demographic historians and continue to do so, as is evident from several recent books, theses, and issues of journals in these fields.

Demand for labor was here a direct function of the value of the marginal agricultural product. Arthur Young wrote oh the contrary “that fabrics all the cottages of a country, as in France and Ireland, such a circumstance is absolutely destructive of agriculture.” But this is a fallacious conclusion from his own observations of the existence of specialization between purely commercial agricultural regions and regions with rural industry and subsistence farms: “that the manufacturing districts in France and England are’ the worst cultivated.

There was no correlation between marriages and linen. That the best cultivation in England, and some of the best in France, must be looked for where no manufactures are found.” By “best” he meant large farms producing for the market.


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