Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Turnips and the Road to Manchester

Since expat BK is looking back across the pond from the UK to the States on this Fourth wisely and without nostalgia -- to which I wonder, what's the best crisp in the Beautiful North? -- I thought I would pile on with the Euro-love with a link to this enthusiastic review of a new history of early modern Europe, Tim Blanning's The Pursuit of Glory. Granted, I am a total nerd, but I love this stuff:

In 1648 the main roads in Europe were mostly the ones that the Romans had built 1,500 years earlier and that had been neglected ever since.

The pace of travel, therefore, was seldom more than the speed a man could make on his own two feet, which, indeed, is how most people traveled....The trip from Bath to London took 50 hours in 1700. By 1800 it took 16. These greatly improved roads allowed other improvements, like much more efficient and much less costly postal service.


Even better is the untold agricultural component to the industrial revolution -- and no, it's not industrial farming:

In 1648 European agriculture had not changed much since medieval times. But enclosure, manuring, crop rotation, new crops like turnips and clover, and improved breeding brought forth a large increase in food production.

One result was a golden age for the landed gentry, whose rent rolls increased sharply, and their conspicuous consumption along with them. (Robert Walpole employed 50 people just to weed his gardens.) Another result was the freeing of manpower to work in the factories that were beginning to spring up in the English countryside. The industrial revolution came about because of turnips as well as steam engines. [my emphasis]


Oh, man, I don't care if there's a glut of commodity and economic histories, histories of everyday life. Bring 'em on, heavy with anecdotes and dripping with debunking practical wisdom. We need all we can get.

1 comment:

Laura said...

the nerdiest thing about that whole post? [your emphasis]