In this century, the British Isles, from 1801 the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland, were affected by the economic transformation summarised as the Industrial Revolution, by a process of political transformation, and by Britain’s position as the world’s leading empire. In turn, these changes threw up fresh problems, while the ‘Irish Question’ increasingly became a vexed issue in British politics. The rise of Britain to become the greatest imperial power in history was not alone responsible for the major divergence between her and the other European powers, a divergence that very much struck contemporaries. Economic development and the rise of nationalism further constituted and accentuated the process of divergence that already existed. Nevertheless, the Industrial Revolution fundamentally altered the nature of the British Isles. Historians have been deeply divided on the speed of industrial change. For long, it was seen as very fast, then there was an emphasis on evolution rather than revolution, but now there has been a swing back to a stress on revolutionary development.
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