The Industrial Revolution

In partnership with
Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 8950
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Course Overview

We owe so much of our world to the Industrial Revolution. The lights that illuminate our homes, the cars that carry us to work, the computers that help drive our economy, and the appliances that make our lives easier—these technologies exist thanks to a remarkable group of scientists and entrepreneurs who, over the past 250 years, have transformed virtually every aspect of our lives and fueled one of the greatest periods of innovation in history.

You would have to look back to the Neolithic Revolution (the invention of agriculture) to find a comparable era when a new set of processes completely overwrote the old one.  What happened to allow for such a transformation? How did governments, businesses, and ordinary laborers—beginning in 18th-century Britain—create the forces that completely upended modern society? And how are the innovations and processes of industry still at work transforming the world today?

In The Industrial Revolution, The Great Courses partners with the Smithsonian—one of the world’s most storied and exceptional educational institutions—to answer these questions and more. Taught by longtime Great Courses favorite professor Patrick N. Allitt of Emory University, this course is a fascinating examination of one of the most pivotal eras in history. Over the course of 36 thought-provoking lectures, you’ll explore the extraordinary events of this period; meet the inventors, businessmen, and workers responsible for these new technologies and processes; and uncover the far-reaching impact of this incredible revolution.

We recognize the benefits of the Industrial Revolution in hindsight, but we should not forget that it created numerous hardships along the way. Its method of creative destruction shattered the livelihoods of rank-and-file workers; the new economy increased inequality and often exploited workers; and it was environmentally harmful. While Professor Allitt presents all sides of the story, he shows how the ultimate effect of industrial ingenuity has been overwhelmingly beneficial—and how the fruits of this revolution liberated people from many of the difficulties and restrictions of preindustrial life.

From the humble engineers who helped build the machines and standardize the tools that powered the Industrial Revolution to the outsized personalities of businessmen such as Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford, and to the laborers and union leaders who challenged them, The Industrial Revolution presents a comprehensive—and complex—portrait of an exciting era; an era whose story is still being written throughout the world.

Discover the Technologies that Have Powered Our World

The technological achievements of the Industrial Revolution are nothing short of astonishing. Thanks to inventions such as the steam engine and processes such as large-scale iron smelting, industrial entrepreneurs were able to mechanize labor, which allowed for a host of new efficiencies, including

  • standardization,
  • interchangeable parts,
  • division of labor,
  • mass production, and
  • global distribution.

Professor Allitt introduces you to the science behind some of the most astounding inventions in modern history, including the spinning jenny, the incandescent light bulb, and the computer processor. He shows you how these inventions came about and traces their development. For instance, you’ll see how Thomas Savery’s “atmospheric engine” paved the way for Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine, which James Watt then improved for use in locomotives by George Stephenson. The Industrial Revolution also reveals what effects these technologies had on every aspect of human life.

  • Discover the mechanics behind coal mining and iron coking, and find out how these raw materials fueled the revolution.
  • Analyze the role the public and private sectors played in the development of national infrastructure.
  • Witness the building of railroads, canals, and bridges, and reflect on the importance of global transportation.
  • See how a couple of bicycle repairmen changed the world with a successful flight on a beach near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
  • Delve into the brutalities of 20th-century warfare and ponder the double-edged sword of new technology.

Meet the Industrialists Who Capitalized on These Innovations

The story of the Industrial Revolution is the story of people, business, and technology. Who came up with these inventions? Who transformed them from ideas in a laboratory to necessities in the consumer market? What impact did these new technologies have in the business world? Professor Allitt answers these questions and more by giving you an inside look at the history of industrial innovation.

  • Examine how British shipyards created a model for future manufacturing.
  • Find out who standardized the nuts and bolts that made industrial machines possible.
  • Uncover the story of some of the world’s most well-known businesses in recent history: Bayer, Ford, American Steel, Xerox, and others.
  • Learn the secrets of John D. Rockefeller’s monopoly business tactics with Standard Oil.
  • Trace the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, and meet the other scientists and inventors responsible for harnessing electricity.

You’ll explore the lives of engineers, inventors, architects, and designers, such as Abraham Darby, Henry Bessemer, Gustave Eiffel, and Eli Whitney—the great individuals responsible for changing the world. You’ll also discover how the Industrial Revolution affected more than just manufacturing; it inspired thinkers in a diverse array of other fields.

  • Meet economists such as Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus,and David Ricardo, who sought to describe the new capitalist paradigm.
  • Consider how industrialization influenced the ideas of political thinkers such as John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels.
  • See what literary writers—including William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Harriet Beecher Stowe—had to say about the Industrial Revolution.
  • Reflect on the information age and the transition from mechanized labor to mechanized knowledge.

Immerse Yourself in the Challenges of Ordinary Workers

While the impact of the Industrial Revolution has been overwhelmingly beneficial, it did come with a cost. Workers saw their old livelihoods disappear and faced the often bleak challenges of boredom, noisy work environments, greedy management, dangerous tasks, and more in the factory jobs that replaced them.

Professor Allitt guides you through the world of guilds and unions, workhouses and factories to show you what it was like for those unfortunate people who lost their livelihoods to new inventions and suffered the health consequences of unsafe work conditions. You’ll see how the division of labor and the fear of industrial espionage led to the “de-skilling of labor,” where line workers knew little about the entire process of the work they performed.

After learning about the conditions that inspired Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to write their famous manifesto, you’ll survey the history of labor upheavals. You’ll meet figures such as Eugene Debs and learn the story of the Great Railroad Strike, the Haymarket Square Riot, the Ludlow Massacre, and more. Then find out how businesses responded—or attempted to prevent—such occurrences by creating a system of paternalism.

Finally, you’ll look at the environmental impact of the Industrial Revolution: the soot and smog of London, the polluted rivers, the fear of nuclear fallout, and the new threats posed to the atmosphere. You’ll also consider how businesses and political activists have confronted—and in many cases solved—the environmental challenges of the past and laid the groundwork for a cleaner future.

Get a Masterful Presentation of a Complex Story

In The Industrial Revolution, Professor Allitt combines his skills as a rich storyteller and his expertise as a historian with the masterful scholarship and illuminating imagery from the Smithsonian to provide compelling insights about the period. Allitt has a true appreciation for the complexity of the Industrial Revolution, highlighting both the good and the bad.

In the end, Professor Allitt is refreshingly optimistic about the possibilities of human ingenuity. In his words, the Industrial Revolution was “one of the two or three most important changes in the entire history of the world.” It has enhanced wealth, health, security, longevity, and comfort. What’s more, he says, “Industrialization does not appear to be slackening.” The story may not be over, but this course will leave you with a new appreciation for the amazing human achievements all around us.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Industrialization Is Good for You
    Step into the story of one of the greatest periods in history. Although there is much to dislike about industrializationóincluding the loss of traditional ways of life, increased economic inequality, and environmental problemsówe should nevertheless be grateful for the Industrial Revolution. Investigate why in this opening lecture. x
  • 2
    Why Was Britain First?
    Start at the beginning in the British Isles, where relative political stability, sophisticated financial institutions, colonial trade, a rising population of workers, and a class of scientists, thinkers, and entrepreneurs willing to experiment with innovation all contributed to the birth of the Industrial Revolution. x
  • 3
    The Agricultural Revolution
    In Britain in the 18th century, new agricultural methods came into being, freeing up thousands of workers to move into manufacturing work. Take a look at some of these changes to agriculture, including different uses of the land, the introduction of new crops, and the early mechanization of farmingóall of which increased productivity. x
  • 4
    Cities and Manufacturing Traditions
    Traverse the country to see where industry took off, starting with a detailed look at the advantages and dangers of life in London. Then shift your attention to provincial cities and towns, where industrialists had to combat the guild system of labor, alcohol in the workplace, and workers who preferred the older, slower pace of life. x
  • 5
    The Royal Shipyards
    Explore the world of 18th-century shipyards, where the large-scale organization of work, materials, logistics, and complex construction would provide a blueprint for later factory-era industrialization. Find out how ships were made and what challenges shipbuilders facedóincluding fires, rot and decay, and logistical infrastructure. x
  • 6
    The Textile Industry
    Turn from the conditions that made the Industrial Revolution possible to the actual process of industrialization that began in the textile business. After surveying the work of spinning and weaving textiles, you learn about several key inventors and their innovations, including the flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, and the cotton gin. x
  • 7
    Coal Mining-Powering the Revolution
    Rising demand for coal and improvements in mining technology transformed coal mining into a large-scale capitalist enterprise. Dive into one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, see what problems miners had to overcome, and examine some of the solutions. Learn about steam engines, safety lamps, ventilation, and more. x
  • 8
    Iron-Coking and Puddling
    Along with coal, iron was one of the most important raw materials for the Industrial Revolution. After reviewing the history of iron, you study how to produce pig iron and forge wrought iron. Then you meet many of the key innovators who improved the process of bringing higher-quality iron into a growing market. x
  • 9
    Wedgwood and the Pottery Business
    Meet Josiah Wedgwood, whose pottery is among the most famous in the world. Thanks to his innovations in pottery-making technique and his division and ìde-skillingî of labor in his factories, he turned his familyís cottage industry into an immense, lucrative manufacturing phenomenon. x
  • 10
    Building Britain's Canals
    Transportation became critically important as new industries emerged. Find out how canal builders connected major cities by water, which greatly enhanced the countryís internal communications and allowed for the transportation of goods over long distances at relatively low cost. Look at the methods of building a canal and several key routes. x
  • 11
    Steam Technology and the First Railways
    The invention of the steam engine was a major turning point for industry. Meet the engineers and businessmen who developed and improved the engines and locomotives that would drive the British economy in the 19th century. Key figures include James Watt, Matthew Boulton, John ìIron-Madî Wilkinson, and George Stephenson. x
  • 12
    The Railway Revolution
    See how British companies privately financed and built a national railroad system, and consider what it meant for the nationís future. In addition to enabling faster communications, economic stimulus, and a boost to employment, the railroads affected the world of architecture, inspired the building of towns, and created a managerial class in the workforce. x
  • 13
    Isambard Kingdom Brunel-Master Engineer
    One of the great railway builders, Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed some of the nationís most magnificent suspension bridges, as well as tunnel entrances and railway stations. Witness him then turning his attention to the world of shipbuilding, where he pioneered the production of ocean-going steamships. x
  • 14
    The Machine-Tool Makers
    Where would the worldís machines be without the tools with which to build and service them? We seldom think of the humble nuts and bolts that hold our machines together, but someone had to create and standardize them. Find out about that process and reflect on the importanceóand impactóof industrial tools and their makers. x
  • 15
    The Worker's-Eye View
    Step away from the machines and consider the human side of the Industrial Revolution. This lecture shows you how ordinary laborers struggled for autonomy and how they were especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the business cycle. Grapple with the powerful moral objections to capitalism, which were articulated most famously by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. x
  • 16
    Poets, Novelists, and Factories
    Survey a wealth of 19th-century British literature, from poets such as William Wordsworth to novelists such as Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell. These works of literature offer a unique perspective on the Industrial Revolution, from evocative descriptions of the new technology to scathing indictments of the emerging labor system. x
  • 17
    How Industry Changed Politics
    As industrialists in the 18th and 19th centuries became wealthy, they were able to gain political power and influence national policy. Delve into the debates over free trade and the political regulation of industry. Then look at some of the eraís efforts at political reform and several notable acts of Parliament. x
  • 18
    Dismal Science-The Economists
    The effects of the Industrial Revolution can be felt in every realmóperhaps none so starkly as the field of economics. Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, and others analyzed the causes and effects of industrialization and put forth the theories of capitalism that still underlie economics today. x
  • 19
    American Pioneers-Whitney and Lowell
    Shift your attention from Britain to the United States, where a class of mobile and educated entrepreneurs stood poised to build an industrial economy. This lecture introduces you to the world of American manufacturing. Learn about Francis Cabot Lowell and Eli Whitney, early innovators in the U.S. textile industry. x
  • 20
    Steamboats and Factories in America
    Continue your study of American industrialization with a look at the steamships, canals, and railways that opened up the great continent. Then turn to a series of great inventions in the 19th century, including the McCormick reaper, the John Deere steel plow, the telegraph, and the Colt revolver. x
  • 21
    Why Europe Started Late
    Great Britain may have started the revolution, but other nations soon followedóand they had the advantage of learning from Britainís trials and errors. Reflect on why the rest of Europe lagged behind in the Industrial Revolution, and take a look at what efforts Belgium, France, and Germany took to catch up. x
  • 22
    Bismarck, De Lesseps, and Eiffel
    After the unification of Germany in 1871, the nation industrialized rapidly. Thanks to a sophisticated educational system that emphasized science, German industries excelled at manufacturing chemicals, electrical equipment, and more. After witnessing the rise in German output, turn to several key innovations in France. x
  • 23
    John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil
    Learn the history of one of the most successful companies in American history. As oil became one of the worldís most lucrative industries, John D. Rockefeller seized opportunities and built a monopoly with Standard Oil. Consider his questionable business tactics and the antitrust regulation they inspired. x
  • 24
    Andrew Carnegie and American Steel
    Meet Andrew Carnegie, the American steel magnate who was a fanatic for business discipline, efficiency, record keeping, and technological modernization. See how he drove his competitors out of business as the demand for steel railways and bridges rose. Find out how he organized and diversified his business. x
  • 25
    American Industrial Labor
    The American belief in upward mobility and its heterogeneous workforce constrained the union labor movement. Nevertheless, many strikes and protests did occur in response to industrialization. Experience the Great Railroad Strike, the Haymarket Square riot, and other important events in the history of American labor. x
  • 26
    Anglo-American Contrasts
    Compare Britain and the United States in the 19th century to see what forces caused Britain to lose its competitive edge in the Industrial Revolution. While labor unions and fewer raw materials put Britain at a disadvantage, the real difference lay in each nationís attitude toward work, leisure, and social class. x
  • 27
    Electric Shocks and Surprises
    We take electricity for granted today, but in the 19th century it was a sensation. Review the science behind electrical technology, from Ben Franklin and Alessandro Volta to Michael Faraday and Samuel Morse. Then learn about the rivalry between Thomas Edisonís direct current and George Westinghouseís alternating current. x
  • 28
    Mass-Producing Bicycles and Cars
    Interchangeable parts and mass production took the Industrial Revolution to a new level. Beginning with the bicycle industry in the 1870s and continuing through the rise of automobiles in the 20th century, this lecture shows how mechanized transportation not only changed the world for consumersóit also transformed the business of factory labor. x
  • 29
    Taking Flight-The Dream Becomes Reality
    Experience the birth of aviation when two bicycle repairmen from Ohio took off from a beach near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Discover what experiments in flight preceded the Wright brothersóincluding lighter-than-air zeppelinsóand look at the effect aviation had in the years leading up to World War I. x
  • 30
    Industrial Warfare, 1914-1918
    Despite its myriad benefits on our world today, industrialization is also responsible for some of the 20th-centuryís most horrific carnage. Planes, tanks, and chemical weaponry have all played a role in global warfare. Meet the players of the First World War and explore the role played by the new military-industrial-political system. x
  • 31
    Expansion and the Great Depression
    Marxists fully expected the overthrow of capitalism in the United States or Great Britain. Why did that revolution never come to pass? Immerse yourself in the interwar years, when governments, managers, and workers alike grappled with the psychology of capitalism and the forces of creative destruction. x
  • 32
    Mass Production Wins World War II
    Reflect on how industry and technology contributed to the phenomenal destructiveness of World War II and helped the Allies win the war. With the Soviet Unionís mass-produced tanks and aircraft and U.S. and British bombers and special weaponry, the Allies were well prepared to defeat the industrially weakened Germans. x
  • 33
    The Information Revolution
    Unpack the history of computers, from early calculating machines and cash registers to transistors and integrated circuits. Professor Allitt shows you the political and economic effects of the information age. Who are the winners and losers in the information age? Have we entered a ìpost-industrialî society? x
  • 34
    Asian Tigers-The New Industrialized Nations
    Since World War II, Japan, China, and other Asian nations have emerged as industrial powerhouses. Follow Japan as it gradually built a reputation for making dependable, low-priced goods. Then shift your attention to China and see how it has achieved rapid economic growth in recent decades. Conclude with an examination of modern-day India. x
  • 35
    Environmental Paradoxes
    One key threat from industry is the negative effect on the environment. Examine how businesses and governments have responded to threats such as air and water pollution, oil spills, nuclear fallout, overpopulation, resource exhaustion, and climate change. Find out what solutions government regulation and the free market have to offer. x
  • 36
    The Benign Transformation
    Conclude your course with some final thoughts about the impact of the Industrial Revolution. Professor Allitt asks whether the revolution is over and if we will continue to benefit from new technological and societal advances. Take stock of everything youíve learned and explore what the future may hold. x

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Your professor

Patrick N. Allitt

About Your Professor

Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching...
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The Industrial Revolution is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 82.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lecturer does a great job of walking you through the basics of the industrial revolution. Learned a lot of detail that has expanded my understanding of the time. Some great anecdotes.
Date published: 2020-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Industrial revolution This the 3rd course we have watched from Professor Allit and all have been exceptional. He mixes in history, writings of the period and thorough knowledge of the subject.
Date published: 2020-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Fine Course We watched this course with great interest and fascination. It combined a description of the history with a clear explanation of many of the key industrial processes that were developed during the historical period. The professor was well organized and his presentation was clear, relevant, and entertaining.
Date published: 2020-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best I've listened to probably 15 Great Courses - this is among the top three. Tremendous.
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Definitely want to have him over for a dinner This was my first lecture series by Allitt, and he has the unique perspective of growing up in England and living in the US, giving a great insight into the Industrial Revolution.His style is straightforward, filled with great pieces of info, with a dash of UK wit. I judge a lecturer by if I'd have him over for a meal, and he's definitely up for an invite!
Date published: 2020-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and clear Professor Allitt must have a 100’s of staff his knowledge is so comprehensive He presents the material clearly and on video it seems he really enjoys what he’s teaching
Date published: 2019-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Survey of a Lot of Important History All of Alitt's courses are outstanding. Most people have little appreciation for how much better and different everyone's lives were after the industrial revolution. This course has some temporal overlap with Patrick Alitt's Victorian and British Empire courses but new and different material is covered.
Date published: 2019-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A marvelous learning program By immersing oneself in this course of study, the end result can only be a far greater appreciation for how humankind has moved from barely more than a subsistence level of existence 250 years ago to today's significantly higher living standards (for most, though certainly not yet for all). There is a wealth of information presented, but it is easily absorbed and well explained along the way.
Date published: 2019-11-18
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