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The British industrial revolution has long, and rightly, been regarded as a turning point in world history, and the question of why it all began in Britain has produced a large and lively literature.

In the past twenty years, our understanding has been considerably enhanced by the repositioning of events in eighteenth-century Britain within global history frameworks. Yet this has resulted in some unwieldy comparisons between Britain, a small island, on the one hand; and very large, continental land masses – India, China, and North America – on the other. Not only do these comparisons involve a significant switch in scale, there is the added complication that some of these regions were themselves bound in complex colonial relationships with Britain. By looking at European nations, similar in size, existing outside Britain’s empire, and indeed in some instances with imperial holdings and ambitions of their own, it is possible to shed new light on the complex and contested relationship between empire and industrialisation, and offer new answers as to why Britain industrialised first.

Emma Griffin est professor of Modern British History à Queen Mary University of London et présidente de la Royal Historical Society. Elle a publié cinq ouvrages, dont Bread Winner: An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy (Yale University Press, 2020) et elle prépare une histoire globale de l’industrialisation.

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