On March 7th Jane Humphries will give a lecture: "Spinning the Industrial Revolution".
The prevailing explanation for why the Industrial Revolution occurred first in Britain is Robert Allen’s (2009) ‘high‐wage economy’ view, which claims that the high cost of labour relative to capital and fuel incentivized innovation and the adoption of new techniques. This paper presents new empirical evidence on hand spinning before the Industrial Revolution and demonstrates that there was no such ‘high‐wage economy’ in spinning, a leading sector of industrialization. We quantify the working lives of frequently ignored female and child spinners who were crucial to the British textile industry in the Early Modern period with evidence of productivity and wages from the late sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. Our results show that spinning was a widespread, low‐wage, low‐productivity employment, in line with the Humphries (2013) view of the motivations for the factory system.
Jane Humphries is Professor of Economic History and a Fellow of All Souls College. Her interests include labour markets, industrialization and the links between the family and the economy. She has published extensively on gender, the family and the history of women's work. She is also interested in the causes and consequences of economic growth and structural change.
Her recent book, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution drew on a very large number of autobiographies by working men and used an innovative quantitative and qualitative methodology to illuminate aspects of children's lives which are inaccessible on the basis of more conventional sources. The monograph was awarded the Gyorgi Ranki Prize for an outstanding book in European Economic History by the Economic History Association in 2011 and provided the basis for a successful BBC4 documentary, The Children Who Built Victorian Britain, which she co-wrote and presented.
This lecture is part of the monthly IISH Seminar series. In principle, seminars take place every first Tuesday of the month. The seminar is open to the public, but with regard to accommodation and distribution of the paper in advance, we would like you to register with Jacqueline Rutte, firstname.lastname@example.org (link sends e-mail). You will receive the paper after registration. After the lecture we serve drinks. We are looking forward to meeting you.