Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution: for RAS/RTS Mains updated syllabus


The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed one of history’s most significant intellectual developments, a sweeping change in man’s view of the universe. A proud, earth-centered picture of the universe gave way to one in which the earth was only one of many planets orbiting around the sun–itself only one of millions of stars. Because their scientific view of mankind’s place in the larger scheme of things had been transformed, men began to rethink moral and religious matters as well. The new scientific methods and concepts were deemed so impressive that ever since, science has been the measuring stick of all knowledge.

The most important development of the eighteenth century was its leading intellectual movement, the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers, called philosophes believed that change and reform were both possible and desirable. Before 1700, a belief in innovation through rational criticism had belonged to only a few pioneering thinkers. With the Enlightenment, it came to characterize Western society. By far the most influential of the philosophes, Voltaire, was an admirer of English government and Newton. France, on the other hand, with its decadent absolutism and political and religious censorship, seemed to prove the need for reform. Because many Frenchmen wanted to see changes made, France became the center for the Enlightenment. The publication of the vast Encyclopedia in mid-century spread Enlightenment ideas throughout Europe. This ambitious enterprise, the collective effort of over one hundred authors, set forth the most advanced critical ideas of the day. The project aimed at secularizing learning and replacing the intellectual assumptions of the Middle Ages and Reformation.

The philosophes, however, were primarily interested not in religion, but with humanity and secular values. Through reason, man would discover laws in human relationships similar to those of physical nature – an idea that would form the basis for social science in the nineteenth century. The philosophes hoped that by discovering social laws, they could remove inhuman practices and institutions.

Industrial Revolution

Emergence and Background

  • Beginning of geographical discoveries and direct sea routes opened new avenues of
    trade and commerce. It formed the bedrock of Industrial revolution as mismatch between
    demand and supply led to new innovative ways of enhancing production.
  • Second factor was emergence of capitalist ideology. Profit making became the core of all
    economic activities in Europe. Capitalists financed the voyages of sailors in search of new
    markets and new sources of raw material. New industries were also financed by capitalists.
  • New inventions were made which enhanced productivity many fold. Invention of Steam
    Power, Use of Mechanical Power instead of Man and Animal power changed the way
    production was done Hargreaves’s spinning mill, improvement of Arkwright and Crompton
    over that spinning mill. Invention of steam engine led to birth of Cotton Jenny, a much
    improved cotton weaver.
  • Factory production arrived as new mode of production as community or home workshop
    production failed to meet burgeoning demands.
  • Colonial quests led to discoveries of new cheap sources of raw materials and profitable
    dumping markets for finished products.
  • Faster means of communication, commoditification of labor with introduction of wage
    System, development of new sources of energy like coal, new durable materials like steel
    were the other supporting factors for the rise of Industrial Revolution.

Industrial Revolution in Britain

  • A number of factors contributed to Britain’s role as the birthplace of the Industrial
    Revolution. For one, it had great deposits of coal and iron ore, which proved essential for
    industrialization. Additionally, Britain was a politically stable society, as well as the world’s
    leading colonial power, which meant its colonies could serve as a source for raw materials, as
    well as a marketplace for manufactured goods.
  • As demand for British goods increased, merchants needed more cost-effective methods of
    production, which led to the rise of mechanization and the factory system.
  • There were many conducive factors. Britain had adequate capital which was accumulated
    through colonialism Disappearance of serfdom and ‘enclosure movement’ provided
    huge surplus agricultural labor which looked for employment and became source of cheap
    labor. (As Industrialization started, land became valuable commodity. Big landlords started
    snatching the land of small farmers and this was termed as ‘enclosure movement’). Britain
    was also rich with natural resources. Iron and coal proved twin pillars of Industrial Revolution
    and Britain was lucky to have them in close proximity. Britain also had a stable polity unlike
    Europe. It also had a strong navy – a symbol of military might. Inventions, capitalist ideology
    and communication were other factors.

Salient Features of Industrial Revolution

  • First feature is that, Britain was the epicenter of this revolution in 1750.
  • Secondly, it started from textile sector. Britain used to spent huge wealth on import of
    foreign clothes like Dhaka Muslin, Calicut Calico and so on leading to huge forex drain. So,
    textile industries became a natural choice to start with.
  • It was also a revolution in infrastructure which was necessary for spread of it. Railways,
    steam boats (reduced dependence on wind sails with heavier load), Macadamized roads
    (pucca roads named after its inventor Macadam), new form of communication like telegraph
    and penny post (now it was possible to send post in a mere penny) etc lead to new
  • It gave birth to ideology of mercantilism which viewed world resources as limited and
    merchants vied for each other in a ‘zero-sum game’
  • A process of new globalization started in which colonies were integrated in a highly
    subservient manner.
  • It also affected agriculture. Cropping patterns were changed. Staple food crops were
    replaced with cash crops like cotton, indigo, tea, opium etc.

Impact of Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution also had certain other fallouts which were not expected. There was
also opposition to these new developments. Luddite movement was such an even which was
a movement launched by workers who attacked machines as they feared that machines will
replace manpower. This and other movements forced Industrialists to give a serious
consideration to worker’s condition
I. Social Impact – new urban centers (like Manchester, Leeds), slums, nuclear family,
urbanization, exploitation of women and children, new class formation

II. Economic Impact – birth of capitalism, transnational trade, cheap goods, ruin of

III. Political Impact – colonialism gets a new fillip, new division of countries as
developed and und-developed, Europeanization of different parts of world, reforms movement
like Chartist Movement started. Unions also began to form. New movements like – Socialism,
Marxism also trace their roots to Industrial Revolution. Child labor laws were formed as
exploitation of children increased.

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