Slavery, Atlantic trade and skills: a response to Mokyr’s ‘Holy Land of Industrialism’

by Maxine Berg and Pat Hudson

05 Nov 2021
Journal of the British Academy, volume 9 (2021)
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Abstract: We challenge the idea that Britain’s short-lived industrial primacy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries is explained by ‘comparative advantage’ in high-level artisan skills possessed by an elite workforce. Skills were vital to the industrial revolution but the timing of change and its regional concentration suggest that Britain’s rise to dominance in Atlantic trade was the major causal factor. Rapidly growing markets in Africa and the Americas, especially for textiles and metalwares, centred on Britain’s leading role in the slave trade and the extension of her plantation frontier in the Caribbean. Structural and industrial change, concentrated in the economic hinterlands of Atlantic ports, facilitated product and process revolutions. Diverse Atlantic demands and new Atlantic raw material supplies stimulated skill development and key innovations in light and heavy industry.

Keywords: Britain, industrial revolution, skills, slave trade, Caribbean, Africa, Americas, markets, textiles, metalwares.

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