How new technology affects educational choices: lessons from English apprenticeships after the arrival of steam power

by Alexandra de Pleijt (Utrecht University), Chris Minns and Patrick Wallis (London School of Economics)


Many workers today worry whether robots will do away with their jobs. Most economists argue that the effect of automation is likely to depend on what workers do. Robots may replace some types of manual work, but new jobs will also be created to design, maintain and manage automated production.

A shift towards ‘new jobs’ would mean that different skills will be valued in the future, and many policy experts have argued that secondary and post-secondary education will have to change in response. But if young people and their parents anticipate how automation will affect their job prospects, the choices made among current educational opportunities could shift ahead of any changes in what is offered.

The effects of automation on educational choice will be seen in the future. But past experience can offer some ideas as to whether the arrival of new technology affects these choices, even before the technology is widespread.

This research examines how the arrival of a new production technology affected educational choices in late eighteenth century England. The period between 1760 and 1810 is at the beginning of the largest shift in history from hand- to machine-powered production, through the invention and spread of the steam engine that powered the British Industrial Revolution.

Our research combines detailed evidence on the location and timing of the adoption of steam engines with the records of over 300,000 English apprenticeships from the rolls of the Commissioner of Stamps.

The main finding is that the arrival of steam power changed the willingness of young people to pursue apprenticeships, which for centuries had been the main route to acquiring the skills required for the production of manufactured goods. Counties saw a fall of 40-50% in the share of population entering into textile apprenticeships once a steam engine was present.

Despite the possible association with machine design and maintenance, mechanical apprenticeships also saw a decline of just under 20% following the arrival of steam. Merchant and professional apprentices, who were trading the goods produced by craft or industry, were mostly unaffected.

These findings show that the workforce responded to the emergence of technology that would dramatically change the nature of production and work in the future, but that much of the response was local. Apprenticeships fell first in northern counties where industrial towns and cities with factory-based production had emerged earlier. A similar decline in how workers were trained was not seen in southern and eastern England in the early part of the Industrial Revolution.


How accounting made financial markets in the Early Modern age

by Nadia Matringe, London School of Economics


In the early modern age, accounting was the site of finance.

From the sixteenth century onwards, the unprecedented growth of international trade and banking gave rise to the great exchange fairs (Lyon, Bisenzone, Castile, Frankfurt, etc.), with international clearing and banking functions. To exploit these new opportunities while limiting risks, a growing number of banks at the fair locations specialised in the commission business, which required a high demand for goods and capital to yield substantial profits.

Both these transformations deeply affected the international payments system. In particular, they gave rise to new uses of accounting as a payment and credit instrument.

The research, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2017 annual conference, analyses this transformation and highlights the role of accounting in shaping early modern financial markets. It shows that at that time, accounting tables were not only used as local means of payment through book transfers initiated by oral order: they also became the sole material support for a growing number of international fund transfers and credit operations.

Indeed, as chains of commission increased in length and density, both the exchange and the deposit business changed in form and started to be increasingly operated through the accounting medium.

The classical exchange operations, which usually involved four parties (a drawer, a remitter, a payer and a payee) and the circulation of a bill of exchange between two markets, could now be conducted by two parties through their corresponding accounting systems, on behalf of several clients.

In these transactions, bank A would draw on and remit monies to bank B on behalf of clients who appeared as drawers and remitters by proxy. Payments on both markets took the form of book transfers, and no bill of exchange was issued: banker A simply informed banker B in his usual correspondence to credit and debit the pertinent accounts according to agreed exchange rates.

Such transactions performed multilateral clearance between distant regions of the world, where the bankers’ clients had business.

Two-party exchange transactions reduced to accounting entries also served banking activity at the local level. In this case, at least one side of the exchange transaction (the remittance or the draft) was meant to lend or to borrow money in one of the two markets. The exchange was followed by a rechange in the opposite direction, and at a different rate, and interest was charged according to the differences in exchange rates.

Finally, the taxation of overdrafts on current accounts at the fair location enabled clients to buy bills of exchange on foreign markets without provision, and to postpone payment of those drawn on them. Consequently, deposits in Lyon, Antwerp or Castile could create credit in Florence, Paris, London, etc.

Furthermore, this old fair custom of deferments gave rise in the sixteenth century to autonomous deposit markets whose rate circulated publicly, enabling ‘outsiders’ who otherwise had no business in the fairs, to invest their savings there.

The research thus shows that in the context of the rapid development of international banking centres and the correlated rise of commission trading, accounting made financial markets.

Its function was similar to that of modern algorithms used to match orders and perform financial transactions. Accounting tables were used to make payments, transfer funds, operate clearance and grant interest-bearing loans – all of which could be combined in a single game of book entries in the accounts of corresponding partners.

International trade and banking were supported by a network of interconnected accounting systems. This accounting network appears as a major infrastructure of early modern trade, without which the whole European payment system would have collapsed.

THE HEALTH AND HUMAN CAPITAL OF WAR REFUGEES: Evidence from Jewish migrants escaping the Nazis 1940-42

by Matthias Blum (Queen’s University Belfast ) and Claudia Rei (Vanderbilt University)


At Europe’s doorstep, the current refugee crisis poses considerable challenges to world leaders. Whether refugees are believed beneficial or detrimental to future economic prospects, decisions about them are often based on unverified priors and uninformed opinions.

There is a vast body of scholarly work on the economics of international migration. But when it comes to the sensitive topic of war refugees, we usually learn about the overall numbers of the displaced while knowing next to nothing about the human capital of the displaced populations.

Our study, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2017 annual conference in London, contributes to this under-researched, and often hard to document, area of international migration based on a newly constructed dataset of war refugees from Europe to the United States after the outbreak of the Second World War.

We analyse holocaust refugees travelling from Lisbon to New York on steam vessels between 1940 and 1942. Temporarily, the war made Lisbon the last major port of departure when all other options had shut down.

Escaping Europe before 1940 was difficult, but there were still several European ports providing regular passenger traffic to the Americas. The expansion of Nazi Germany in 1940 made emigration increasingly difficult and by 1942, it was nearly impossible for Jews to leave Europe due to mass deportations to concentration camps in the east.

The Lisbon migrants were wartime refugees and offer a valuable insight into the larger body of Jewish migrants who left Europe between the Nazi seizure of power in Germany in January 1933 and the invasion of Poland in September 1939.

The majority of migrants in our dataset were Jews from Germany and Poland, but we identify migrants from 17 countries in Europe. We define as refugees all Jewish passengers as well as their non-Jewish family members travelling with them.

Using individual micro-level evidence, we find that regardless of refugee status all migrants were positively selected – that is, they carried a higher level of health and human capital when compared with the populations in their countries of origin. This pattern is stronger for women than men.

Furthermore, refugees and non-refugees in our sample were no different in terms of skills and income level, but they did differ with respect to the timing of the migration decision. Male refugees were more positively selected if they migrated earlier, whereas women migrating earlier were more positively selected regardless of refugee status.

These findings suggest large losses of human capital in Europe, especially from women, since the Nazi arrival in power seven years before the period we analyse in our data.

The civil war in Syria broke out six years ago in March 2011, making the analysis of the late holocaust refugees all the more relevant. Syrian refugees fleeing war today are not just lucky to escape, they are probably also healthier and coming from a higher social background than average in their home country.

Agency House Crises in India: What Role Did Indigo Play?

by Tehreem Husain

English, Dutch, and Danish factories at Mocha, 1680 ca. Public Domain picture


History provides us with many examples of asset bubbles which have led to systemic crises in the economy. Popular examples are that of the Tulip mania and the South Sea Bubble. This blog discusses the case of an indigo price bubble in nineteenth century India, perhaps the first of its kind, which lead to a contagion like crises in the economy.

 Almost 17.4% of Indian GDP was derived from the agricultural sector in 2015-16, with nearly half of the Indian population being dependent on agriculture and allied activities for livelihood. This makes smooth functioning of commodity markets of considerable importance to policymakers. Throughout time, there have been many episodes of commodity price surges and ensuing market volatility due to traditional demand-supply gaps, monetary stress and financialization of commodity markets inclusive of speculation (Varadi, 2012). What role did agriculture play in commodity market volatility during the late 18th/ early 19th century? Little is known about perhaps the first asset bubble of its kind in India – the indigo crisis, the reasons attributed to it and the cost it imposed on different sectors of the economy.

With the advent of the East India Company, India was a global trade destination for a number of commodities including cotton, silk, indigo, saltpetre and tea. In order to trade these commodities with global markets, European traders needed banks to finance foreign trade. Indigenous bankers in India did not provide this particular banking function and hence the East India Company diversified its business by introducing agency houses in Calcutta which amongst others also performed banking functions. These agency houses performed all the banking functions of receiving deposits, making advances and issuing paper money. Their responsibility of note circulation crucially helped them in carrying out their diversified lines of businesses as ship-owners, land owners, farmers, manufacturers, money lenders and bankers (Cooke, 1830). It was the agency house of Messrs. Alexander & Co. which started the first European bank in India, called the Bank of Hindostan, in 1770 (Singh, 1966).

In the early nineteenth century these agency houses were tested for their endurance and continuance due to three factors. Firstly and most importantly, during the early 1820s, agency houses borrowed money at low interest rates and invested it prodigally in indigo concerns-the crop being the only profitable means of remittance in Europe. The crisis multiplied when newly formed agency houses, besides investing capital in their own indigo concerns, fiercely competed with the old houses in making indiscriminate advances to indigo planters and paid little regard to the actual state of the market. Excessive demand of indigo fuelled the prices in the mid 1820s and encouraged increased production of the commodity which eventually led to a glut in the market and sharp decline in its price. This rise and fall in prices is evident from the fact that the indigo price shot up from Rs. 130/maund in 1813 to Rs. 300 in 1824, and then fell to Rs. 145/maund in 1832 (Singh, 1966).

The second challenge, along with indigo price volatility, was the start of the first Anglo Burmese war in 1825. This further led to stressed monetary conditions resulting in a scarcity of metal in Calcutta (Sinha, 1927).

Thirdly, in terms of the global landscape, this period marked the peak of investment boom in Britain, which characterized an explosion of company promotions and bond issues by foreign governments, mining companies, railways, utilities, docks and steamships. In total during 1824-25 some 624 companies hoping to raise £372 million were brought to the market. However, with the investment boom peaking out in 1825, market conditions had changed. Interest rates had risen making borrowing more expensive, investor sentiment had become more cautious which eventually led to a panic like situation resulting in bank failures and bankruptcies (Brunnermeier & Schnabel, 2015).

In such times of local and global economic stress, several minor agency houses failed in 1827 which shook investor confidence in the remaining agency houses. A notable case is that of the agency house of Messrs. Palmer and Co., known as the ‘indigo king of Bengal’, which faced heavy withdrawals from their partners and eventually led to the closure of their private bank and finally their own demise in 1830. This panicked the market and led to further withdrawals of capital investments.

During this period agency houses made desperate appeals to the government for financial relief and highlighted their importance in the Indian financial system at that time. In a minute dated 14th May 1830, Lord William Bentick, Governor General of India from 1828-35, accentuated systemic importance of agency houses. He highlighted that not only would there be a dislocation of trade in some staple commodities, any damage to the ‘conglomerate’ nature of the agency houses would cause severe disruptions in other industries, most notably shipping. Finally, loans were granted to these houses in the form of treasury notes bearing 6 percent interest.

Despite the monetary aids provided by the government, the wave of agency house failures could not be curbed. More agency houses failed in January 1832. In addition to this, the unexpected fall in the price of indigo created difficulties for one of the biggest agency houses Messrs. Alexander & Co. It is important to note that the relief package came under stringent conditions. They were obliged to withdraw their bank notes from circulation, and were given an extended period for the payment of their debts provided they end their banking operations (Savkar, 1938). This resulted in the demise of the Bank of Hindostan and the Commercial Bank.

Overall seven great Agency Houses of Calcutta failed within a short span of four years which had detrimental effects on the Indian economy at that time. It may be summarized that speculation in indigo and mixing of trading and agency business were the pivotal reasons behind the failure of these agency houses. More importantly, this episode of a commodity price bubble spreading its tentacles to the entire economy had a phenomenal impact on the structure of business. It is recoded that from a handful of firms in the year before 1850, there were 170 firms working as joint stock organizations in 1868. The first commercial register to identify firms with tradable stock was established in 1843 which listed eights firms (Aldous, 2015). Joint stock organizational form also entered banking. A key example is the rise of the Union Bank of Calcutta (Cooke, 1830). The crisis also led to the establishment of a number of private banks by the British expats (Jones, 1995).


THE INEFFECTIVENESS OF GOVERNMENT EFFORTS TO PROMOTE PRODUCTS MADE AT HOME: Evidence from the ‘Buy British’ campaigns of the 1960s and 1980s

David Clayton (University of York) and David Higgins (Newcastle University)


Campaigns to promote the purchase of domestic manufactures feature prominently during national economic crises. The key triggers of such schemes include growing import penetration and concern that consumers have been misled into purchasing foreign products instead of domestic ones. Early examples of such initiatives occurred in the United States in 1890 and 1930, with the introduction of the McKinley tariff and the ‘Buy American’ Act, respectively.

In Britain, similar schemes were launched during the interwar years and in the post-1945 period. For the latter, Britain’s share of world trade in manufactures declined from 25% to 10%, and between 1955 and 1980, import penetration in the manufacturing sector increased from 8% to 30%.

Simultaneously, there were numerous government public policy interventions designed to improve productivity, for example, the National Economic Development Council and the Industrial Relations Commission. Both Labour and Conservative governments were much more interventionist than today.

Currently, the rise of protectionist sentiment in the United States and across Europe may well generate new campaigns to persuade consumers to boycott foreign products and give their preference to those made at home. Indeed, President Trump has vowed to ‘Make America Great Again’: to preserve US jobs he has threatened to tax US companies that import components from abroad.

Using a case study of the ‘Buy British’ campaigns of the 1960s and 1980s, our research, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2017 annual conference in London, considers what general lessons can be learned from such initiatives and why, in Britain, they failed.

Our central arguments can be summarised as follows. In the 1960s, before Britain acceded to the European Economic Community, there was considerable scope for a government initiative to promote ‘British’ products. But a variety of political and economic obstacles blocked a ‘Buy British’ campaign. During the 1980s, there was less freedom of manoeuvre to enact an official policy of ‘Buy British’ because by then Britain had to abide by the terms of the Treaty of Rome.

In the 1960s, efforts to promote ‘Buy British’ were hindered by the reluctance of British governments to lead on this initiative because of Treasury constraints on national advertising campaigns and a general belief that such a campaign would be ineffective.

For example, the nationalised industries, which were a large proportion of the economy at this time, could not be used to spearhead any campaign because they relied on industrial and intermediate inputs, not consumer durables; and in any case, the ability of these industries to direct more of their purchases to domestic sources was severely constrained: total purchases by all nationalised industries in the early 1970s were around £2,000 million, of which over 90% went to domestic suppliers.

Efforts to nudge private organisations into running these campaigns were also ineffective. The CBI refused to take the lead on a point of principle, arguing that ‘A general campaign would… conflict with [our] view that commercial freedom should be as complete as possible. British goods must sell on their merits and their price in relation to those of our competitors, not because they happen to be British’.

During the 1980s, government intervention to promote ‘Buy British’ would have contravened Britain’s new international treaty obligations. The Treaty of Rome (1957) required the liberalisation of trade between members, the reduction and eventual abolition of tariffs and the elimination of measures, such as promotion of ‘British’ products, ‘having equivalent effect’. Attempts by the French and Irish governments to persuade their consumers to give preference to domestic goods were declared illegal.

The only way to overcome this legislative restriction was if domestic companies chose to mark their products as ‘British’ voluntarily. This was not a rational strategy for individual firms to follow. Consumers generally prefer domestic to foreign products.

But when price, quality and product-country images are taken into account, rather than origin per se, the country of origin effect is weakened considerably. From the perspective of individual firms promoting their products, using a ‘British’ mark risked devaluing their pre-existing brands by associating then with inferior products.

Our conclusions are that in both periods, firms acting individual or collectively (via industry-wide bodies) did not want to promote their products using ‘British’ marks. Action required top-down pressure from government to persuade consumers to ‘Buy British’. In the 1960s, there was no consensus within government in favour of this position, and, by the 1980s, government intervention was illegal due to international treaty obligation.

In a post-Brexit Britain, with a much weakened manufacturing capacity compared even with the 1960s and 1980s, the case for the government to nudge consumers to ‘Buy British’ is weak.

Holding Brexiteers to account

by Adrian Williamson, University of Cambridge

Margaret Thatcher and Ted Heat campaigning during the 1975 Common Market Referendum, when conservative leaders took a rather different approach to Europe. Source:

The House of Commons has voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50, on the explicit basis that this process will be irrevocable and that, at the end of the negotiations, Parliament will have a choice between a hard Brexit (leaving the Single Market and the EEA) and an ultra-hard Brexit (WTO terms, if available).

It follows that arguments about whether the UK should remain in the EU, or should stay in all but name (the so called Norwegian option) are now otiose. What role can economic historians play as the terms of exit unfold? I think that there is an important role for scholars in seeking to analyse the promises of the Brexiteers and how feasible these appear in the light of previous experience.

Thus far, the economic debate over Brexit has been conducted on a very general basis. Remainers have argued that leaving the EU spells disaster, whereas Leavers have dismissed such concerns and promised a golden economic future. But what exactly will this future consist of? Doing the best one can, the Brexit proposition must surely be that the rate of economic growth per capita will be significantly higher in the future than it would have been if the UK had retained its EU membership. Since, at the same time, there was to be a massive and permanent reduction in EU and non-EU immigration (from c.330,000 p.a. net immigration to ‘tens of thousands’), it is per capita improvements that will have to be achieved.

The path to this goal will, it is said, be clear once the UK leaves. In particular:

  • the UK will be able to make its own trade deals and become a great global trading nation;
  • the UK can develop a less restrictive regulatory framework than that imposed by the EU;
  • industries such as manufacturing, fisheries and agriculture will revive once the country is no longer ‘tethered to the corpse’ of the EU;
  • the post-referendum devaluation will provide a boost for exporters.

In relation to each of these claims, there is plenty of helpful evidence from economic history. After all, the UK was the first nation to embrace a global trading role. As Keynes pointed out in a famous passage, in 1914:

The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages…

 Yet, despite this background, and despite the economically advantageous legacies of Empire, the UK spent the period between 1961 and 1973 making increasingly desperate attempts to join a (then much smaller) Common Market. British policymakers were initially dismissive of the European Community. Exports to the Six were thought less important than trade with the Commonwealth. Britain’s initial response was to establish EFTA as a rival free trade area. However, it soon became apparent that this arrangement was lopsided: Britain was part of a free trade area with a population of 89m (including its own 51m), but stood outside the EEC’s tariff walls and population of 170m. Will the 2020s be different from the 1960s? In any event, ‘free trade’ is an elusive concept. As John Biffen, a Tory Trade Minister in the Thatcher government (and no friend of the EU), acknowledged, free trade has never existed ‘outside a textbook’.

As regards to decoupling from EU regulations, the UK was, of course, completely free to devise its own regulatory framework prior to accession to the EU in 1973. Nonetheless, in this period, much of the current labour market structure, such as protection against unfair dismissal and redundancy, was enacted. EU regulations, such as the Social Chapter, have complemented, not undermined, this domestic framework. In any event, does the evidence suggest that a mature economy, such as the UK, will be able to establish a more rapid rate of growth with a looser regulatory framework? The obvious comparisons in this respect are the developed North American and Japanese economies. The data suggests that the UK has performed extremely well within the EU framework.


Table: GDP per capita (current US $, source: World Bank




Cumulative increase






















Of course, much higher rates of growth have recently been achieved in developing economies such as China and India. But it cannot seriously be argued that an economy like the UK, which underwent an industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, can achieve rates of progress comparable to economies that are industrialising now. The whole course of economic history shows that mature economies have much slower rates of growth and that the increases achieved by the USA and the UK over the last few decades are close to optimum performance.

The maturity of the UK economy is also germane to arguments suggesting that it will be possible to revive industries that have suffered long term decline, such as manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries. After all, one consequence of the UK’s early start in manufacturing is that primary industries declined first and most rapidly here. Economic historians have been pointing out since the 1950s that in advanced economies the working population inevitably drifts from agriculture to manufacturing and then from manufacturing to services. In 1973, the American sociologist Daniel Bell greeted the arrival of the post-industrial society. He pointed out that the American economy was the first in the world in which more than 60% of the population were engaged in services, and that this trend was deepening in the USA and elsewhere. Brexit is scarcely likely to reverse these very long-term developments.

The British economy has also had considerable past experience of enforced devaluation (for example in 1931, 1949 and 1967). Research following the 1967 devaluation suggested that a falling pound gave only a temporary fillip to the trade balance, whilst delivering a permanent increase in inflation. Over the same period the West German economy performed extremely strongly, despite a constantly appreciating currency.

Finally, one may question whether the UK can achieve an economic miracle whilst, at the same time, pursuing a very restrictive approach to immigration. Successful economies tend to be extremely open to outsiders, who are both a cause and a consequence of growth. After all, in the pre-1914 golden age to which Keynes referred, there were no controls at all, and the British businessman ‘could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality…and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters…and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference’. Our putative partners in trade deals are not likely to be offering such access and, if they do, they will want substantial concessions in return.

Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future prosperity. Historic failure does not preclude future success. And sections of British public opinion have, it appears, ‘had enough of experts’. Even so, economic historians can hold up to scrutiny some of the more extravagant claims of the Brexiteers.


From Notes on Liberty – Ten best papers/books in economic history of the last decades (part 1)

In my post on French economic history last week, I claimed that Robert Allen’s 2001 paper in Explorations in Economic History was one of the ten most important papers of the last twenty-five years. In reaction, economic historian Benjamin Guilbert asked me “what are the other nine”? As I started thinking about the best articles, I realized that […]

via Ten best papers/books in economic history of the last decades (part 1) — Notes On Liberty

From the LSE blogs – Industrial strategy: some lessons from the past

Industrial strategy is back on the government’s agenda, with a promise to produce a ‘match fit’ economy that ‘works for everyone’ and is able to thrive after Brexit. As yet, however, there is little sign of the promised broadly-based and coherent industrial strategy emerging. In crafting it, explains Hugh Pemberton, its architects may profitably look…

via Industrial strategy: some lessons from the past — British Politics and Policy at LSE

Spinning little stories: Why cotton in the Industrial Revolution was not what you think

Judy Stephenson reviews some of the developments in debates about causes of the Industrial Revolution from this year. 

When Nick Crafts reviewed competing ‘meta-narrative’ explanations of the Industrial Revolution by Joel Mokyr and Robert C. Allen in 2010 he noted that explanations of the cause of the IR were a bit like the Holy Grail (1). He was expressing the feeling of a generation of economists who believed that economics could ‘explain’ the modern world, and so must explain the IR. When Deirdre McCloskey’s critique (2) of every meta narrative ever generated about the Industrial Revolution declared that economics could do no such thing it was indicative of a shift generally away from that kind of thinking, or as John Kay said, there are no meta-narratives, only little stories. But in economic history, Allen’s meta narrative has largely prevailed. A recently published little story has questioned it.

 Allen ‘explained’ the Industrial Revolution by claiming that because Britain was a ‘high wage’ economy in the eighteenth century, the high cost of labour and the relative cheapness of coal and capital incentivised labour saving mechanisation, and this is why Britain industrialised before other countries. The theory has met with challenges already. In 2013 Humphries undermined the assumptions about household conditions, and since she has also produced new wage data with Jacob Weisdorf that is fundamentally at odds with the day wages Allen used. (3) (I have shown to these be too high, 4). Humphries and Ben Schneider have also shown that spinning was a very low wage activity (5). Whilst all this undermines Allen’s theory, a well told little story by John Styles in the latest edition of The East Asian Journal of British Studies, is notable because it challenges much of what we understand about the innovations at the core of the IR. see p.161 onwards.

 Allen’s favourite and oft used case of the effect of British factor prices has always been that of the spinning jenny. In ‘The Industrial Revolution in Miniature’ (6) he sets out high British spinning and labouring wages, and low French wages to show that the jenny was only economical in England. Styles brings some other facts to the case. It’s enjoyable reading so I won’t attempt to reproduce it here but suffice to say he also shows in the first part of the paper that French wages were higher, British lower, and there were more jennies in France than thought.

 Whilst every economic historian knows that whoever says the IR says ‘cotton’, what many probably didn’t know is that ‘cotton’, in England, for most of the eighteenth century meant cotton weft spun on linen warp. The inability of English spinners to create cotton warp strong enough to go on larger frames needed for calicoes meant that English ‘cottons’ were a cotton linen mix, which, although popular and cheap, was not a match for the colour and fineness of proper cotton calico. The burgeoning American market wanted calicoes above all else, and to provide it, and tap into that valuable demand, properly spun cotton warp was the only answer. The spinning jenny did not provide such warp, and whilst the calico acts protected or sheltered the home market it was not until Arkwright’s water frame that English cotton could conquer the profitable American market.

In the story of the spinning jenny, high wages (nor cheap coal) had no part to play. It was Arkwright’ invention which fundamentally changed the production of cotton and which met the demand for fine new cotton fashions, and the incentives are far less clear in this story. Styles makes the important point that Arkwright’s macro-invention was the “outcome of a long history of applying capital-intensive, mechanical solutions to quality and supply problems in luxury textile manufacturing” (see particularly pp.186-7). This is not all bad news for Allen. Styles is clear that the wage for those who could produce good warp was very high, but Arkwright, nor others, could not produce enough of it at the volumes needed at any wage. As many readers will understand this little story has implications for our understanding of jennies as ‘macro’ or ‘micro’ inventions, and so for Mokyr too. Bear in mind that Wallis, Colson, and Chilosi and separately Keibek have both shown this year that industrialisation was as much 17th century phenomenon as 18th, so we may need some new models anyway (7). 

 Styles contribution highlights how a strong empirical basis for economic analysis is essential if meta narratives or ‘big theories’ are to explain economic developments of the past. Allen has always stressed the comparative level of wages in Britain, and there is work to be done on current sources here. (There is a developing Twitter conversation between myself, @pseudoeramus @VincentGeloso @MarkKoyama @benmschneider @ulyssecolonna regarding this subject and market size for instance). But in a year where the notion of economic rationality itself has been shaken to its foundations perhaps it’s not surprising that the Industrial Revolution is moving back towards being ‘unexplained’, although we should await reviews of Mokyr’s latest contribution, (which seems to chime with McCloskey’s ‘cultural’ one) before returning to the view of a couple of decades ago that there really wasn’t one at all.

In the meantime research on the coal tax in early modern England is long over due….


R..C Allen, The British industrial revolution in global perspective, CUP, 2009.

J. Mokyr, The enlightened economy: an economic history of Britain, 1700-1850, Yale, 2009.

 (2) McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity : Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.




(6) Allen, Robert C. “The Industrial Revolution in Miniature: The Spinning Jenny in Britain, France, and India.” The Journal of Economic History 69, no. 04 (2009): 901-27.

(7) , for Keibek see this blog 

  J.Z. Stephenson, Wadham College, Oxford., tw:@judyzara

How to win the EHS New Researcher Prize

As the Society’s New Researchers prepare to submit their final papers for our conference in March, Anne Murphy gives some invaluable tips on how to win the highly coveted prize for the best ‘new researcher’ paper. Excellent advice for first time and new scholars presenting everywhere ….


Don’t skip the Friday afternoon of the Economic History Society Conference, that’s when the New Researchers Sessions are scheduled and it’s often the most interesting part of the weekend. Adding to the excitement is the tension in the air because everyone knows that the presenters are competing for one of the Society’s prestigious New Researcher prizes, awarded each year to the best one or two (and sometimes three) papers.

Between 2014 and 2016 I was lucky enough to be the Chair of the Committee. Hence I got to read dozens of New Researcher papers, to observe numerous panels at the Conference and to hear and read the deliberations of my colleagues on the Committee. I concluded that, although we sometimes disagreed about the merits of a particular paper, what we were looking for was not in dispute and could be summed up in five points. I offer these points here as advice for future New Researchers but with the caveat that, as with any advice, it’s easier to deliver than to act upon!  

1) The Committee wants to know why they should care about your argument and findings.  

This point shouldn’t come as a surprise. Your PhD supervisor will have told you many times that you need to position your thesis carefully within the existing historiography to demonstrate your original contribution to scholarly knowledge. You need to do this in a conference paper too. Tell us why your work is important. The Committee won’t just know because they won’t all be experts in your field. Also, never assume that you are writing about something so obvious that all scholars rooted in economic history automatically will see its significance. They might but they will still want to know what you are bringing to the debate.

2) The Committee wants you to demonstrate your credentials as a historian.  

To do this ensure that your paper provides details on your data, sources and methodology. Are you the first to use the source or are you using your data or sources in a new way? It is true that your footnotes might demonstrate this but you should also reinforce these points through your argument. Also discuss your methodology but with a focus on what you are doing that will make a contribution to the literature or on establishing the appropriateness and relevance of your techniques. Do remember though that your paper should not just focus on your methodology, the Committee expects to see historical context and a strong conclusion.

3) The Committee wants to read work that is clear and well-written.  

The Committee will be reading lots of papers and will appreciate well-written work. Again this won’t come as a surprise, you have probably done some teaching, and marking, so will already know the joy of coming across beautifully crafted prose. To generate a clear piece of writing you should remember that you can’t, and shouldn’t, cram your entire thesis into 2,500 words. Pick a representative aspect of your work, something that illustrates its totality but is compact enough for you to present a tight argument based on sound evidence. Pay attention to the way that you say things, not just what you want to say.

4) The Committee wants you to deliver an excellent presentation  

Everyone understands that you might be giving your first paper at a big conference and you might be presenting in front of people whose work you admire (or indeed question). We know that is nerve-wracking. But, the prize is not just awarded for the written paper, it’s expected that the presentation at conference will be excellent too. So be clear, confident, pay attention to timing and engage your audience. With regard to content, you should highlight your research question, establish your scholarly contribution, focus on your argument and analysis and present your conclusion.

5) The Committee will expect you to give good responses to the questions  

You will be asked questions at the end of your presentation and the Committee will be taking note of how well you address those questions. They will be concerned chiefly with how you defend your argument so make sure you have thought about what sort of things you might be asked before the presentation. Do defend your position and do so calmly, politely and firmly. Be precise and concise. Remember that the time allocated to questions will be short so don’t use it all explaining one point.

If these are the things the committee is looking for, how can you maximise your chances of delivering them? 

• Pay attention to the criteria for the New Researcher papers: especially the word count and time limit. 

• Write a new paper, don’t just cut down a chapter and think that will do. It won’t!

• Get feedback. Show your paper to your supervisors before you submit.

• Act on the feedback. It might be right; it might be wrong. If you believe the latter, consider why your reader misunderstood or was not convinced by your point. Maybe you need to explain more clearly and evidence more effectively.

• Read previous winning papers:

• Rehearse your presentation to ensure that you can present well and that you keep to time. And then rehearse again!

• When presenting be confident, speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard.

• Face the audience: do not turn around and speak to the PowerPoint. If you’re using your PowerPoint as a prompt then look at it on the computer screen or better still have some prompt cards in your hand.

• Ensure that your PowerPoint presentation is neither too text-heavy nor too sparse.

• Don’t have dozens of slides, a good rule of thumb is one for every two minutes.

• Keep to time!

• Make eye contact and smile (even if you feel like weeping)!

And finally… ..Good Luck! And remember to practice your gracious winner/loser face for the conference dinner… 

Anne L. Murphy  

University of Hertfordshire