Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution


Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution

This is a unique account of working-class childhood during the British industrial revolution. Using more than 600 autobiographies written by working men of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Jane Humphries illuminates working-class childhood in contexts untouched by conventional sources and facilitates estimates of age at starting work, social mobility, the extent of apprenticeship, and the duration of schooling. The classic era of industrialization, 1790-1850, apparently saw an upsurge in child labour. While the memoirs implicate mechanization and the division of labour in this increase, they also show that fatherlessness and large sibsets, common in these turbulent, high-mortality, and high-fertility times, often cast children as partners and supports for mothers struggling to hold families together. The book offers unprecedented insights into child labour, family life, careers, and schooling. Its images of suffering, stoicism, and occasional childish pleasures put the humanity back into economic history and the trauma back into the industrial revolution.


 Reviews:

"Recommended." -Choice

"This is a large and important book … It deserves to become not only a classic study of childhood, but also of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. As Humphries herself notes, it has been a long time coming, but for the reader it has been well worth the wait." -History Today

"Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution is richly innovative in its marrying of economic data with life stories. The voices of the children – stoical, matter of fact, and moving in their ordinariness – jump off the page. There is no other historical study of British labour during the industrial revolution that so vividly brings to life the world of the working-class child." -History Workshop Journal

'This is a work of economic history that is at once rigorous and humane. Jane Humphries' use of workers' autobiographies opens the black box of the household economy to reveal family relations and the circumstances that led young boys into the workplace. Humphries takes the reader from the highly particular to the reliably general with a rare and enviable mastery of both economics and history.' Jan de Vries, Professor of History and Economics, University of California, Berkeley

'These life stories treat us to colourful detail about what it was like to be a working child in industrialising Britain … [Humphries] has conveyed more about the nature and importance of children's employment than any previous study …' The Times Higher Education Supplement

'The industrial revolution brought immense prosperity to the British Empire … But as a new book by Jane Humphries, a professor of economic history, shows, a terrible price was paid for this success by the labourers who serviced the machines, pushed the coal carts and turned the wheels that drove the Industrial Revolution. Many of these labourers were children.' Daily Mail

'Britain's industrial revolution - the first in the world - would have never happened without child labour. That's the startling conclusion drawn by a leading economic historian following the most detailed analysis of relevant contemporary sources ever carried out.' BBC History Magazine

'There are too many strengths in this book to pack into a short review. The scale and impact of the Napoleonic Wars on ordinary families is fully appreciated. The situating of child labour within an Industrial Revolution that slowly gathers force through the eighteenth century is another one. … this monograph is a tremendous achievement.' Pamela Sharpe, Local Population Studies

'… eloquently written account … meticulous and brilliant research …' Journal of Economic Geography

'Children were increasingly at the heart of economic life in the acute age of industrialisation, and the historical community and the public alike owe Humphries a debt of gratitude for bringing this point into sharper focus.' The English Historical Review

'Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution is richly innovative in its marrying of economic data with life stories. The voices of the children - stoical, matter of fact, and moving in their ordinariness - jump off the page. There is no other historical study of British labour during the industrial revolution that so vividly brings to life the world of the working-class child.' History Workshop Journal


 Prizes:

Winner, 2011 Gyorgi Ranki Biennial Prize in European Economic History, Economic History Association
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