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Describe the main features of pre-industrial society and explain how gradual change in agriculture led to changes in society at the dawn of the industrial revolution.
The Industrial Revolution is considered by some the most significant time in human history. This point can be well argued because before the revolution, the world was static. Society was largely agrarian, with a large population of peasantry working on farms. It had been this way for several years and there hadn’t been any large evolutionary leaps in mankind’s progress in the greater scheme of things.
Each farmer would produce enough food to feed his family, and this is one of the major aspects that changed during what some might call the industrial ‘evolution’. In spite of the largely agrarian feudal nature of society, Britain did have some industry at the time and slowly incorporated different sources of power. The Industrial Revolution, preluded by the Agricultural Revolution changed much of the methods of industry, jobs, efficiency, town set up and also general mind set, leading to further invention and progress.
Most of the world at the time was ruled by Monarchs under strong influence of the Catholic Church, leaving the rest of the population: peasants and craftsmen. Given this, there wasn’t a flourish of art or music and most culture was restricted to France. Farmers worked for themselves and had no need to produce a surplus, which would’ve been hard anyway because at the time only manual labor was used and the most common source of power came from animals.
The fields themselves were set out differently with a grain grown on a strip of land on a large field. Farmers owned strips depending on their wealth. This system was messy as it often led to conflict as to whose land was better, where the boundaries lay and with regards to trespassing. Besides that, it was inefficient and soon changed. Enclosing of land was a major step in the evolution as it served as the match that set off what was to follow.
Pre- industrial Britain did have the foundation for industry. Many craftsmen worked in towns and in guilds. These guilds were societies of people of the same trade that set prices and covered for each other. There was also small scale industry where families manufactured goods from home. The entire family would work to produce bricks, iron products and- the most popular- cloth garments. These would be sold from home or in markets, as actual ‘stores’ that we know today didn’t exist. Besides the cloth making industry, ship building was the largest.
For the farming and small scale industry manual labor and animal power was utilized. Another major source of power was water. It would be used to turn wheels and grind corn. Wind power and steam engines were significant changes in power that happened later on in the evolution of Britain’s industry. This increased yield and efficiency.
The event which could be considered the spark which started up the revolution is the movement of enclosure. This meant people’s land would be fenced of hedged in order to determine boundaries. The poor minority were pushed off by the Acts of Parliament and many lost their land and cattle. The poor had the option of either starving or moving to the city to find jobs. This led to a large population of peasantry in the cities with no jobs. While this resulted in an increase in crime and begging, it also resulted in large scale industry.
Simultaneously, the farmers that could afford it, became capitalist. With the new machinery coming in and with new methods like crop rotation and selective breeding, a surplus of food was produced, allowing farmers to make a profit. Farmers, no longer owning strips, could grow specialized crops. These farmers would form groups, share ideas and innovations, and these farmer societies were one of the ways ideas were spread.
Due to the sharing of ideas and also the specialization of the farmers’ fields, good quality food was common. This resulted I high supply and low demand which dropped the prices on food. When food is affordable, the people et healthier. The urban and general population rose in numbers in Britain, as a result of the increase in mortality rates. This then became a cycle; as food was available to more people, the population increased and as the population increased, more food needed to be produced.
What also came with the evolution was education. With the coming of new methods, inventions and ideas, word of mouth alone could not be used to spread knowledge. Magazines, newspapers, informative shows were putout to the public and soon almost everyone had advanced agricultural knowledge. They knew for example of leaving ground fallow, of breeding fat cows with other fat cows for more yield, and the like.
Transportation also changed as grain, or any product for that matter had to be carried to all the parts of the country. As it was produced in bulk, traditional methods of transportation would no longer suffice. Ships were not common but soon Tarmac was discovered, leading to the concept of good roads. People still used animals to drive carts until later, when the steam engine was developed. All these advancements made the world a smaller place.
In conclusion, the evolution of agriculture developed Britain’s society and the rest of Europe was following closely behind, through advancements in technology as well as through the education of the masses. The evolution of agriculture and industry, was a sequence of events, a domino effect, that changed society in terms of opportunity, work advancements and led the world in thr direction of progress.
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