It is a commonplace of any history textbook that the world’s first industrial revolution took place in Britain. Yet this simple assertion leads quickly to the more complex question: why? What was unique about Britain? What qualities — political, economic, cultural, geographical or ecological — did Britain possess that predisposed it towards early industrialisation? Or, to put the question another way: what was missing in other countries so that their industrialisation was either delayed until the second half of the nineteenth century or, indeed, had failed to occur by the century’s end at all? Considering alternative pathways to industrialisation is of course interesting in its own right, but it is also invaluable to any discussion of British industrialisation. Understanding the course of economic development in other parts of the world helps us to isolate which features of the British economy were critical to industrialisation, and which merely occurred at around the same time. The following chapter provides a global context for the economic transition that occurred in Britain in the nineteenth century. In the first place we shall look at the course of economic growth in Europe and consider when and why some of Britain’s neighbours underwent the transformation to industrial society. Then we shall look beyond Europe and ask why a number of highly developed Asian nations failed to make a similar leap to full-blown industrialisation before the end of the nineteenth century.
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- Why Was Britain First? The Global Context for Industrialisation
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- Chapter 8