Through the Mill

Jane Humphries

  • BuyLiberty’s Dawn: A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution by Emma Griffin
    Yale, 303 pp, £12.99, March, ISBN 978 0 300 20525 1

In 1836, Benjamin Shaw looked back on a life of toil in the textile factories of the North-East. He was a skilled worker, but had lived in poverty for years, buried his wife and four of his children, had a leg amputated (diseased as a result of unhealthy working conditions), and been left to care for his illegitimate orphaned granddaughter. His is one of the many autobiographies Emma Griffin uses in Liberty’s Dawn to illustrate what she calls ‘a people’s history of the industrial revolution’. Her message is unequivocal: ‘It is time to think the unthinkable: that these writers viewed themselves not as downtrodden losers but as men and women in control of their destiny; that the industrial revolution heralded the advent not of a yet “darker period”, but of the dawn of liberty.’

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