In an earlier post I alluded to the fact that I believed that there was a strong case for suggesting that industrial activity was really swinging during the 1600’s and lo! This week I came across a scholarly article supporting just this premise. So of course I can’t take credit for the idea.

Over the last 20 years a whole team of historians in Cambridge have been poring over old documents. Sifting and sorting. Looking for clues and doing historian type stuff. They’ve come up with some exiting revelations.

They have been tracking what both men and women have been up to in various industrial sectors since 1350. That’s quite a relevant if arbitrary date. Historians do like chunks of years. Decades, half-centuries and centuries. But real life being real life doesn’t always fit in to these neat blocks. Well this is the British Isles, where the weather, a constant topic of conversation, forms the basis for growth and recession as much as anything else. We often refer to climate change in today’s environment, but it has been the only constant in these islands since, well, forever. It has been more often been that which has created our human responses and has spurred the ingenuity and inventiveness of the indigenous populations since Neolithic times and probably before that.

Alba, that bit of the Isles that compose of modern day England, Scotland and Wales (I will get to Eire later, because, yes they are part of these British Isles, geographically if not politically) are some of the most geologically diverse areas in the world all squished into a tiny corner in the Atlantic. Then just to sweeten the deal Gaia decided to bestow upon these isles some of the most unique soils, that with a bit of help became the garden of England - by that I mean everything below the moors and high lands.

Side by side were, relatively for the times, abundant natural resources and rich agricultural land. It’s no wonder that the Romans and later the Norse and Germanic peoples came visiting and kept coming. Even Ragnar Lothbrok was after agricultural land to feed his growing population. No doubt, with their work ethic, they felt that the existing peoples were lazy blighters that weren’t doing enough with what they had. A bit like the inhabitants of the British colony of Jamestown. Well they just weren’t looking hard enough. Sound familiar?

Back to the study. The occupational structure as they like to call it. To make life easy, all occupations have been boxed up into three: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary.

The Primary sector is what most people would think of as the traditional sectors: farming, fishing and forestry. The secondary: mining, manufacturing and construction. The tertiary: the service sector.

This is where things get muddy. Socio-Economics is such a restrictive discipline that naturally devolves into discussions of GDP as if that were an accurate indicator of industriousness. Not to mention the crazy obsession with continual growth as a mark of a societies worth. This study actually blows a big hole in previously held assumptions. It may just be important. If we are to talk about growth then in order to see the big picture, then we need stop compartmentalising everything, move away from Hegelian dialecticism And focus more readily on what Is, Was and Will be before we finally commit ourselves to oblivion.

The study shows that the number of workers in industrialised processes increased steadily from around the 1500’s and that by the beginning of the 18th century most people were employed in some sort of Industry. It’s simply that many of the processes were labour intensive or geographically spread out - think of weaving. By the end of that Century industry was moving into a a highly technologically advanced state. This has been happening before our eyes this century if one examines the population shifts and industrialisation in China over the past 30 years. This shift has been massive and fast, whereas it occurred more slowly in Britain. Thus, effectively, what we like to refer to as the Revolution was all over by 1800, as the service sector took over and began to dominate our lives. Does this mean, therefore, that that which we have taken for granted as great leaps forward are in fact the last dying gasps of the human race.

I am going to study the report quite extensively over the next whenever, because quite simply there’s a lot to take in. I am sure that this study will help historians to see a much more nuanced picture.

Here is the link to the study. There’s lots to read.