Course Meeting Times

Lecture/Discussion: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This course adopts a global perspective in surveying the great transformation in history known as the “Industrial Revolution.” Briefly defined, the Industrial Revolution represented a new way of organizing work and making things. The British commentator, Sir Thomas Carlyle, appropriately called it “a mechanical age” because the invention and use of self-acting machinery became one of its most striking characteristics. It was a time when hand tools and craft methods began to give way to water and steam-powered factories, canals, steamboats, and railroads. It also witnessed a “communications revolution” (led by high speed printing presses and telegraphy) that touched the lives not only of industrial workers but entire populations. This class seeks to place these themes in a broad global perspective by examining various outcroppings of industrialization in Great Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia, Japan, China, India, and South America from the mid-18th century to the mid-20th century. Among other things, we will examine contrasting processes of invention and technological development, the role of the private entrepreneur as well as the state in these developments, and how the deployment of the new mechanical technologies of the Industrial Revolution impacted working people around the globe.

Textbooks and Readings

Buy at MIT Press Horn, Jeff, Leonard N. Rosenband, and Merritt Roe Smith, eds. Reconceptualizing the Industrial Revolution. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780262515627.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Original German publication 1904; English translation by Talcott Parsons first published in 1930. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001. ISBN: 9780415254069. [Download a public domain copy in various formats from the Internet Archive]

Rostow, Walt W. The Stages of Economic Growth. Original publication 1960. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN: 9780521409285. [Preview in Google Books]

Selections from these books are supplemented by additional readings for many class sessions.

Writing Assignments

Students will complete three types of writing assignments during the term.

  • Weekly reflection papers on each week’s readings
  • A formal book review plus a brief in-class presentation of the review
  • A longer final reflection paper

See the assignments page for more details.


The quality of the writing assignments will determine one’s final grade in the class.

No final examination will be given.


1 Introduction  
2 Reading period (no class)  
3 The cultural background of the Industrial revolution in Western Europe  
4 Cultural background (cont.)  
5 The Industrial Revolution as a concept  
6 Reading period (no class)  
7 The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain and the onset of the “mechanical age”  
8 Contrasting interpretations of the British experience  
9 The French experience  
10 Reading period (no class)  
11 The American experience  
12 The American experience (cont.)  
13 The German experience  
14 The Scandinavian and Spanish experiences  
15 Russia’s experience  
16 Japan’s experience  
17-20 Reading period (no class)  
21 India’s experience  
22 India’s experience (cont.)  
23 China’s experience  
24 Brazil’s experience; wrap up

Final reflection paper due

Book review paper due

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2009