History Optional Paper- 2 Solution – 2012: Q.5 (d)

Q.5 (d) “The  process  of  industrialisation  in  some  other  countries  of  Europe  was  different  from  that  in England.” Critically examine.


After the first appearance of industrialization in Britain, many other nations joined in the industrial revolution. In the 19th century the Industrial Revolution spread to Germany, France, Belgium, and much of the rest of western Europe. Change happened somewhat differently in each setting because of varying resources, political conditions, and social and economic status but there were also several similarities.

Difference between the process of industrialization of Britain and other European countries:

  • Britain was first to industrialised. Through most of the second half of the twentieth century, the British industrial revolution soon extended to mainland Europe in ‘a purely and deliberately imitative process’.
  • Two distinct stages of economic growth are identified in Britain between 1700 and 1870.  Throughout the eighteenth century population grew steadily and some parts of industry were revolutionised by technological innovations, particularly towards the century’s end.  Yet, for all this, the profile of the economy changed relatively little: national income improved modestly and the structure of the workforce remained remarkably stable.  At some point in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, however, a new phase of growth began, characterised by an increase in the use of fossil fuels – coal in particular – in industry.  The result was a sharp upturn in rates of population growth and urbanisation, in national income per capita, as well as a more significant restructuring of the workforce. On the other hand, most accounts of European industrialisation have not placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of fossil fuels.
  • In the case of Britain, the switch to coal invariably involved developing and investing in new technologies, and this was an expensive process.  Many European countries were noticeably slower to shift towards new forms of powered production not simply because fuel was expensive, but also owing to the fact that local wages were low.  In Belgium, where cotton producers in eastern Flanders took little interest in mechanised spinning for several decades because it remained cheaper to hire extra workers than to invest in the latest technology.  Similarly in Italy through most of the nineteenth century: with wages low and coal extremely expensive, there was no incentive to substitute workers with fuel-hungry machines.
  • The entry costs for early industrialisers like Britain, using relatively cheap technology and with few competitors, were far lower than for those that industrialised later, who found themselves competing against nations with efficient industries using complex and expensive machinery.  For this reason, Britain, as the industrial pioneer, was able to undergo a spontaneous economic transformation largely funded by the manufacturing sector.  Other parts of Europe lacked this advantage, and the stimulus for industrialisation was provided by either banks or the state.
  • With their coal, steam-engines and heavy industry, Britain, Belgium and Germany all industrialised in a recognisably similar fashion.  At the same time, however, it was clear by the early twentieth century that other countries without significant coal, steam or heavy industries were also undergoing the transition to industrial society.  As the largest and most populous western European country in the eighteenth century, the experience of France has long been of particular interest. The French did not have the large coal reserves of Britain, Belgium, or Germany, and so it is perhaps inevitable that the French economy did not follow in the same tracks.  Furthermore, the population of France followed a very different trajectory over the nineteenth century to that taken elsewhere in Europe. Population was largely stagnant in nineteenth century. As a result, the occupational structure of the country changed only slowly and cities grew at a much slower pace.

  • In France, industrial development was delayed by political turmoil and a lack of coal, but the central government played a more active role in development than Britain’s had. Craft production, in which people make decorative objects by hand, also remained a more significant element in the French economy than it did in Britain.
  • In Germany the central government’s role was greater than it had been in Great Britain. This was partly because the German government wanted to hasten the process and catch up with British industrialization. Germany used its rich iron and coal resources to develop heavy industry, such as iron and steel manufacture. It also proved to be an environment that encouraged big businesses and cooperation among large firms. The German banking sector, for example, was dominated by a few large banks that coordinated efforts to increase industry.
  • In Russia, the government made repeated efforts to enable industrialization, sometimes hiring foreigners to build and operate whole factories. On the whole, however, industrialization spread more slowly there, and the Russian economy remained overwhelmingly agricultural for a long time. Even in largely industrialized areas, such as western Europe, some areas lagged behind in industrial development. Southern Italy, Spain remained largely agrarian until much later than their neighbours.

Similarities between the process of industrialization of Britain and other European countries:

  • Belgium was the first continental country to undergo a process of industrial development recognisably similar to that of Britain.  Belgium, like Britain, had abundant coal reserves, as well as rich deposits of lead and iron-ore.  No doubt for much the same reason, economic development in Belgium also followed a fairly similar pattern to that of Britain, with coal and heavy industry playing a pivotal role.
  • The only other European country to industrialise in a way that bore strong similarities to the British experience was Germany, though industrialisation here was largely delayed until after 1850. As in Britain, economic growth was accompanied by both extensive population growth and significant restructuring of the workforce. the proportion of the workforce employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing declined steadily whilst those employed in industry, manufacturing, mining, and transport rose.
  • As in Britain and Belgium, Germany possessed rich coal deposits and the great surge in Germany’s economic performance after 1850 can be closely tied to the exploitation of these deposits.  Much of the coal was put to use powering steam-engines.



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