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Book Review


Roerkohl, Anne. (2004) "The Industrial Revolution: Great Britain 1750-1850/Die Industrielle Revolution: Gro_britannien 1750-1850." DVD-Video 74 min. Bilingual. dokumentARfilm GmbH (2004). approximately $55.00.

Advances in the use of water and steam power, the machine production of textiles, the development of coal mining and iron production, the growth of railroads and the suffering of children: these are the themes covered in "The Industrial Revolution," a German/English bilingual documentary DVD-video from Anne Roerkohl. While narrative voices relate a chronology of the industrial revolution, the DVD presents a visually appealing journey across the English countryside to key factories and other sites, many of which are museums today. These virtual museum visits are supplemented by on-site interviews with curators. The video would be suitable for secondary students and lower-level undergraduates who study the innovations, processes and consequences of the industrial revolution. 1
     The DVD is divided into two parts. Part I (23 minutes) briefly defines the industrial revolution and then asks why the industrial revolution occurred first in England. The narrator explains that the "right combination of factors" coalesced in Britain at the same time. These included population growth, rural-to-urban migration and the resulting surplus of urban labor. The contemporary historical context also included an increased demand for manufactured goods, a national financial system that provided the capital for economic investment, and the raw materials and wealth generated as a result of inter-continental (triangular) trade. Together, these factors generated the conditions in which inventors, financiers and industrialists would develop the world's first textile factories. The balance of Part I presents an overview of the innovations that would lead to the factory-based, machine production of textiles (as well as supporting industries), and introduces consideration of the social costs of industrialization. 2
     Part II of the DVD consists of seven modules (6-9 minutes each) which develop topics previously introduced in Part I. The segment on Richard Arkwright's Cromford Mill illustrates the use of water power and the development of child labor in textile factories. A module on the Quarry Bank Mill describes the subordination of people to machines and the imposition of industrial discipline on factory workers. In addition, this section also more fully explains the deplorable conditions experienced by children in the factories and in company dormitories. "The 'Age of Iron'" focuses on the development of the coke-fired blast furnace at Coalbrookdale, today "a unique industrial monument." Other modules address James Watt's innovations in the development of steam power, the rise of the railroad, and Robert Owen's humanitarian efforts at the New Lanark Mill. 3
    An associated website,, advertises an interactive CD-Rom, lists related websites for further research, and offers a lesson plan for the video. Suggested activities develop students' knowledge of key terms (e.g. "entrepreneur" and "infrastructure") and critical thinking skills, including the analysis of cause-and-effect relationships. 4
     The DVD's primary weakness is its failure to integrate contemporary social science perspectives that would elevate the story of the industrial revolution told here to one that reflects a more sophisticated level of historical analysis. I wish it gave human agency to the slaves in the new world and the thousands of factory workers who made the industrial revolution happen. What were the forces that led to the pre-industrial displacement of rural workers, driving them into cities? What was the relationship between the rise of England as an industrial power and the development—and underdevelopment—of the new world and Africa? What tensions and contradictions irrevocably changed the organization of British society and its dominant culture(s) when Britain underwent rapid, irreversible transformation as a result of industrialization? Teachers and professors who wish to raise historical questions such as these will find it necessary to supplement this DVD with additional materials, or to carefully frame its presentation in class to stimulate critical reflection on the processes it depicts. 5
Elizabeth A. Ten Dyke
Kingston High School

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