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Historical Interpretation of Economic-Social Change

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Introduction

ASSIGNMENT 3 Historical Interpretation of Economic-Social Change The problem when looking at historical interpretations of economic-social change is that it is very difficult for the historian to comment without any of his or her personal political bias, it is for this reason that both sides of the standard of living debate must be looked at side by side. Historians commenting on the standard of living debate can be classified into two categories, the 'pessimists' who believe that the conditions for the working classes deteriorated, and the 'optimists' who hold the view that conditions improved with industrialisation. Historians when writing about the standard of living debate, attempt to explain the winners and losers of industrialisation by their own interpretation of evidence, as the study of the English working class has always been a politically biased subject. A pessimistic observer of Industrial Manchester was Friedrich Engels who wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. This primary source is valuable, as Engels' father owned the factory in Manchester, which Engels had been sent to manage. Engels therefore had real experience of life in the city and his father's factory, and wrote with a social conscience. ...read more.

Middle

Clapham argues that welfare estimates are based on the earning of the principal breadwinner and that the Industrial revolution "provided opportunities for relatively considerable family earnings" (J.H. Clapham (1938) An Economic History of Britain). There is little reliable data that can be used to in evidence in the standard of living debate; birth and death rates are inaccurate as not all were registered. When using food consumption and diet statistics to debate the standard of living, R.M.Hartwell another optimistic historian uses wheat and bread prices as an argument for optimism as the prices fell after 1815 and were then relatively stable, he says that this suggests no long term shortage of wheat and flour. On the other hand though E.J.Hobsbawn a pessimist believes that wheat production and imports did not keep pace with population growth, illustrating the lack of firm evidence when debating the standard of living. Hartwell states that the wealth and opportunities created by industrialisation should not be ignored, and that there are misconceptions about agricultural life before the industrial revolution. He also notes that child labour was not a new concept and warns about "the myth of the golden age", when looking at the standard of living debate. ...read more.

Conclusion

He published Hard Times in 1854 and in this novel, comments on the conditions of the working class in an industrialised town. He illustrates the unfairness of the factory system, the hard working labourers who are little rewarded for their efforts whilst the factory manager lives in the lap of luxury. Whilst Elliot looks back at an earlier time of close knit village life contrasted with the new industrial town, Dickens uses his writing for a moral and social purpose. Elizabeth Gaskell published North and South, which is set in Industrial Manchester shortly after the publication of Hard Times. Unlike Elliot Gaskell recognises the ugliness of industrialisation but also recognises that in the agricultural village of Helstone, the inevitable changes that time has brought to the village force the reader to recognise that the unchanging idyllic memory of the village is reminiscence and not a reality in which people live. As with the novels written around the time of the Industrial Revolution, historical interpretations cannot be separated from the political viewpoint of the writer. Both sides of the debate, for their own cause, can interpret statistics used as evidence with a different approach. It is impossible for a writer to comment without his or her personal bias, experience or social background influencing their work. ...read more.

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