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Gay L. Gullickson

In 1971 the historians Charles Tilly and Richard Tilly questioned the prevailing portrait of the industrial revolution. They did not doubt that the changes associated with industrialization had been important and dramatic: work had moved out of the home; peasants had moved off the land and into the cities; families had ceased to be production units; daily life and work had been altered by technological developments; and new classes had come into existence. What they doubted was that these changes had happened abruptly and swiftly. They were led to these doubts by the research of historians on early modern rural Britain and Europe. Most important of all for the Tillys was the work of a young historian named Franklin Mendels. Based largely on his findings of economic and demographic change in Flanders, they called for historians to study "protoindustrialization, demographic change, and industrialization as life experience" (Tilly and Tilly, 1971, p. 186). They defined protoindustrialization as "industrialization before the factory system" (p. 186), and they freely acknowledged having "lifted" the term from Mendels (p. 187).

Mendels immediately found himself in an unusual position for a young historian. In 1969 he had used the term "proto-industrialization" in his doctoral dissertation; in 1970 he had delivered a paper based on his dissertation; and now, one year later, the Tillys were calling for historians to devote themselves to the study of protoindustrialization. Worried that the term needed precise definition, Mendels hurriedly wrote and published a summary of his dissertation research. In this 1972 article he defined protoindustrialization as "the rapid growth of traditionally organized but market-oriented, principally rural industry" (p. 241). The process, he said, was "accompanied by changes in the spatial organization of the rural economy" (p. 241), and it "facilitated" industrialization proper by creating a class with entrepreneurial experience, market connections, and investment capital (p. 245). Most controversially, he suggested that protoindustrialization and industrialization were two phases of the same process.

Historians connected to the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure in England and to the Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichte in Germany and individual American, English, French, Dutch, Swiss, Irish, and other social historians began to consider the questions posed by Mendels and the Tillys. As historians worked, they found they could agree on several things but not everything. The definition of a region remained fuzzy, but they agreed that protoindustrialization was a regional rather than a national phenomenon and needed to be studied region by region. They agreed that cottage manufacturing expanded in the eighteenth century and employed a majority of the population in various areas. They agreed that it was important to understand why and how this expansion occurred and how it affected rural behavior and values. And they generally agreed on the distinguishing characteristics of protoindustrialization. What they ultimately could not agree on was a simple characterization of regions that protoindustrialized; the effects of protoindustrial employment on demographic behavior; the social and economic impact of protoindustrialization on families and, in particular, on women; and the relationship between protoindustrialization and industrialization. What became most controversial was the causal relationship implied in Mendels's identification of protoindustrialization as "the first phase of the industrialization process" (1972).


Mendels's first concern was to distinguish protoindustrialization from traditional cottage manufacturing. If this could not be done, the concept would be redundant and unnecessary. The difficulty of transporting manufactured goods and agricultural produce made cottage manufacturing a common feature of rural life. Fabric, household goods, and farm and building implements were produced everywhere, as was a panoply of crops. Regardless of terrain and climate, families raised everything from grain, to vines and fruit trees, to cows and other livestock. During planting and harvesting men, and to a lesser extent women, worked in the fields. (More generally, women cared for animals and men for the fields, except during the harvest, when everyone helped bring in the grain crops.) During the winter or dead season in agriculture, the same men and women produced fabric, clothing, baskets, stockings, ribbons, and other small items for themselves and for sale. Local artisans, who helped with the harvest but otherwise did not engage in farming, produced shoes, ropes, barrels, plows, bricks, and furniture for local use. If the raw materials were available, they also produced nails, tanned leather, and glass.

Sometimes entire families participated in the production of a single product. In the textile industries, for instance, women and children often cleaned, combed, and spun fibers for men to weave. In other cases women and men worked at unrelated tasks. Given the sexual divisions of labor throughout western Europe and Britain, women often spun thread, wove ribbons, made hats, or knit stockings for sale, while their husbands worked in the fields, forged iron, milled flour, and cut wood.

In the simplest form of these cottage industries, farm families produced the raw materials from which they made goods to sell in local markets. Linen weavers and cord or rope makers wove flax or braided hemp from their own plants. Wool spinners and weavers washed, carded, spun, and wove wool from their own sheep. In some places merchants distributed raw materials to farmers and artisans who turned them into finished products. Sometimes raw materials came from nearby villages or farms, other times they came from greater distances. All over Europe weavers who produced high-quality woolens worked with wool from Spain's merino sheep. Silk weavers throughout France worked with silk produced in the Rhône Valley, where mulberry trees and hence silkworms could be raised. Cotton spinners and weavers worked with cotton from Asia and North America.

Protoindustries resembled cottage industries in many ways. Rural families alternated work in cottage manufacturing with work in the fields. They worked in their own homes, using traditional technology (like spinning wheels and hand looms) or newer but still small machines (like knitting frames) to produce goods for putting-out merchants, who provided them with raw materials and paid them for completed goods. Thus they no longer worked with raw materials that they produced themselves. And the items they produced were no longer destined for local markets. Instead, they were sold in regional, national, and international markets. Perhaps most distinctively, protoindustries dominated local labor markets, employing a large number of rural residents (or, given the sexual division of labor, a large number of either the men or the women) in a region. For a region to qualify as protoindustrial, a majority of its population needed to be employed in cottage manufacturing.

The system was controlled by urban merchants whose desire to increase production (and profits) had led them to employ rural workers. (Before the technological innovations associated with the industrial revolution, production could only be expanded by increasing the labor force.) To a certain extent, the decision to turn to rural workers was inevitable. Urban populations were relatively small, and new workers were hard to find; wages were higher than those of rural workers; and guilds continued to control the production and sale of manufactured goods. Potential rural workers existed in large numbers, produced much of their own food and therefore could work for low wages, and were often desperate for income; in addition, no one controlled the quality of the goods they produced. Such advantages outweighed the transportation and time costs involved in sending raw materials and finished products from town to country and back again.

The intensification of rural manufacturing did not occur in isolation from other economic changes. Sometimes dispersed cottage work was directly related to centralized workshops or protofactories. Even in the era of cottage industry fabric was always dyed and printed by urban craftsmen. The same was true of the fulling of wool fabric (Pollard, 1981, pp. 78–79). In the late eighteenth century, when spinning was mechanized and moved out of homes and into mills, textile merchants supplied rural weavers with mill-spun yarn (Gullickson, 1986; Levine, 1977). In the nineteenth century, when clothing and household linens began to be mass-produced, precut pieces were still sewn together by rural workers, who vastly outnumbered the factory labor force (Collins, 1991). In metal regions centralized operations produced copper and brass that were then put out into the countryside for the production of small items (Berg, 1994, p. 71).

In the short run the wages paid by the puttingout merchants improved life in rural villages, and other social changes resulted. Cafés and taverns began to appear in villages that had never seen such things before, a sign that those who combined farming and manufacturing now had some disposable income. Population grew, and more and more families became partially dependent on the merchants, even as it became increasingly unlikely that cottage workers would know the individual merchants for whom they worked. Their contact was with the porter who brought them materials to work and paid them for their labor. This development may have meant little to the peasants who worked for the merchants, as long as they were regularly paid, but anonymity was a step toward the impersonalization of work and the proletarianization of labor that is identified with industrialization.

As the invention of machines moved work into factories, peasant-workers' incomes declined precipitously. In some areas former cottage workers commuted on a daily or weekly basis to nearby mills. This strategy worked best when the mills employed women, who could walk to and from the mills, while their husbands and brothers continued to work in the fields. In the best-case scenario women might also bring home "out work" for other members of the family to do. In other places workers tried to hang on even in the face of mechanization, but the machines were hard to compete with, and even when workers like hand-loom weavers produced fine fabric, they still had to confront declining demand. In still other places entire families migrated permanently to cities, where men, women, and children sought work in a variety of occupations. Eventually, many protoindustrial regions became more purely agricultural than they had ever been.


While traditional cottage industries were ubiquitous, protoindustries were not. Initially, Mendels suggested that protoindustrialization occurred in areas of subsistence and pastoral farming, where bad soil made peasants very poor and in need of additional sources of income. Flanders was a classic case. In the interior regions, where peasants eked out a living on small plots of land, the linen industry became a major source of winter employment and income. In the maritime regions, where large commercial farms produced wheat, butter, and cheese for foreign and domestic markets, traditional cottage industries died out and were not replaced (Mendels, 1972).

In his 1960 study of eighteenth-century Switzerland (part of which appeared in English in 1966), Rudolf Braun had found a similar situation. The area of flat, fertile land that lay between Zurich and the Highlands had no cottage industry, while the steep and sparsely settled "back country" with "wood glens 'of forbidding aspect,' inconceivably bad communications, and a rude climate" produced large quantities of cotton thread or yarn for the Zurich merchants (p. 55). (Unlike in other textile regions, weaving was not done in the Zurich highlands because the transportation of warps and cloth up and down the mountains was far too difficult.)

Other studies bore out Mendels's predictions about the location of protoindustries. David Levine discovered that Shepshed, in Leicestershire, England, where the land was "rocky and stony," had a large framework knitting industry while neighboring villages with better land did not (1977, p. 19). James Lehning found that peasants living in the Stephanois mountains combined subsistence farming, sheepherding, and dairying with ribbon weaving for SaintÉtienne putting-out merchants who sold the ribbons in national and international markets (1980). Pat Hudson revealed that the Halifax area in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where the land was suited only to "livestock grazing and the cultivation of a few oats," became protoindustrialized, while the valleys and hills, where the soil was better and farms produced a variety of crops, did not (1981, p. 42–43).

What made the work offered by the putting-out merchants so desirable in these regions was the sheer poverty of the peasants, poverty made worse in some cases by the beginnings of a geographic sorting out of agriculture. Poor-soil regions found themselves unable to compete in the grain markets with richer-soil areas that were enclosing fields and intensifying production. As a result peasants in the poor-soil areas became even poorer than they had been and turned to cottage industry to prop up sagging income (see Jones, 1968).

Most historians were content with the notion that subsistence- and pastoral-farming areas were prime territory for the putting-out merchants. Mendels himself went further, moving toward a more determinist model than he had first proposed. By 1980 he was arguing that large-scale cottage industries were most likely to occur where commercial and subsistence agricultural zones abutted each other and lay near a city. He envisioned a three-way symbiotic relationship. Merchants could easily put work out into the countryside and increase production. Peasants in the subsistence area eagerly accepted their offers of work and wages. With their earnings they purchased food from the commercial zone. The farmers in the commercial agricultural zone acquired a market for some of their produce and did not have to search far for harvest labor.

While Mendels was developing this model, Peter Kriedte, working in conjunction with Hans Medick and Jürgen Schlumbohm, was suggesting that protoindustrialization was "relegated" to "harsh mountainous areas," although his subsequent discussion indicated that he did not mean this statement to be quite so categorical (pp. 14, 24, 26–27). Both of these predictive models had flaws, as historians quickly pointed out. Only Flanders seemed to fit Mendels's model. The Zurich Highlands certainly did not, nor did Shepshed, the Stephanois mountains, or the West Riding. And only the Zurich Highlands and the Stephanois mountains fit Kriedte's model. Worse yet, Gay Gullickson's work on the Caux in Upper Normandy revealed that the intensification of cottage industry was not confined to areas of poor soil. The Caux was a fertile area with large grain farms and a large cotton industry, a situation that most historians had thought would not occur. The same was true in Scotland, as Ian Whyte subsequently demonstrated. Rural textile production was concentrated not in the Highlands but in the Lowlands, where cereal crops were produced on large farms.

If protoindustries appeared in some but not all subsistence regions and if they appeared, at least occasionally, in zones of commercial farming, then subsistence and pastoral farming could not be the sole explanation for their presence. No one doubted that areas of poor soil and steep terrain were in desperate need of the work the putting-out merchants offered, but what determined the location of protoindustries was not just poverty. Other factors were decisive. Proximity to a merchant city advantaged some areas over others. A large landless or poor population made some regions more attractive than others. Weak communal or manorial controls made it possible for people to accept work from merchants and, as population grew, to clear land and build houses. Regions that were tightly controlled by lords or communal agreements could exclude merchants, restrict building, and force excess population to migrate. Partible inheritance customs that fragmented landholdings and impoverished regions could make industry attractive. Impartible inheritance that concentrated land in a few hands and created a poor landless population could do the same, as could enclosure. Any one of these phenomena could make cottage manufacturing an attractive proposition to peasants and merchants.


One of the first questions that interested historians about protoindustrialization was its relationship to population growth. The picture that emerged early on was that the income from cottage manufacturing led to considerable and often dramatic breaks in the "traditional" marriage and childbearing patterns of rural families. The traditional pattern was revealed by the work of historians like Micheline Baulant, John Hajnal, Olwen Hufton, and Peter Laslett. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the population of Britain and western Europe was fairly constant. This homeostatic demographic system resulted from high marriage ages for men and women and a relatively high percentage of both sexes who never married. These high marriage ages and celibacy rates were the results of economic constraints, cultural practices, and inheritance systems. The common pattern was for a man and woman to set up housekeeping in their own dwelling as soon as they married. To do so, they needed a place to live, some household goods, and a source of income. It took time to achieve these things. A woman had to work and save for years to acquire the requisite dowry of a mattress, pillows, sheets (one or two sets), eating and cooking utensils, and a storage chest. A man usually had to wait to inherit farmland or an artisan business. He also needed a place for the new family to live and rudimentary furniture. Not all sons inherited land or an occupation, and not all daughters were able to acquire a dowry. As a result the average marriage age for women was between twenty-four and twenty-six; for men it was between twenty-six and twenty-eight; and on average, 10 percent of adults never married. Even in the wealthy elite, as Laslett memorably pointed out, boys did not marry at age fifteen or sixteen or girls at twelve or thirteen as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet did.

Childbearing began quickly after marriage, but women bore only four to six children, and most people did not live long enough to know their grand-children. Life in these small families was hard, and everyone worked—men, women, and children. If a husband or wife died young, the remaining spouse needed to remarry as quickly as possible to survive economically.

The employment and income provided by protoindustrialization, many have argued, made it possible for cottage workers to marry at younger ages and with greater frequency than their peasant counterparts. A woman no longer had to acquire a dowry and a man no longer had to inherit a small piece of land or occupation before they could take their wedding vows. When protoindustries provided employment for children as well as for adults, some historians have argued, cottage workers had an incentive to bear more children. Whether this was the case or not, the overwhelming majority of children born in the mid–eighteenth century were born to married women, and a decrease in women's marriage age or an increase in the number of women marrying would inevitably increase the number of children in these communities that did not practice contraception.

In many areas population growth entered an upward spiral. In Flanders, years in which the income provided by the merchants was high in comparison with the price of grain were followed by years in which the number of couples marrying increased. Perhaps most important for population growth, the reverse was not true. Bad economic years did not result in fewer marriages. Developments in Shepshed were even more dramatic. During the eighteenth century, when the vast majority of villagers knit stockings for London merchants, the average age at first marriage for both men and women fell by over five years. As a result population rose rapidly. In the Zurich Highlands marriages were more numerous and earlier than in purely agricultural regions. Contemporaries called these "beggar marriages" because the bride and groom had not acquired the dowry, economic skills, and property commonly regarded as prerequisites for marriage.

Other studies found less dramatic changes. Myron Gutmann and René Leboutte (1984) found that female marriage ages remained high and stable in three protoindustrial Belgian villages. Lehning discovered that protoindustrialization did not inevitably lead to lower marriage ages and higher marriage frequency in the Stephanois region of France (1983). Gullickson found that the number of women not marrying in the village of Auffay was very low when spinning occupied the majority of women and high in the subsequent era when spinning moved into factories and it became more difficult for women to find employment. Women's marriage ages, on the other hand, remained stable and high, dropping only from just above twenty-six to 25.3, while men's marriage ages fell from almost twenty-nine to just below 27.5. (1986, pp. 133–144). Many regions without protoindustries were also experiencing a decrease in women's marriage ages and population growth in this period (Houston and Snell, p. 482). Clearly, employment in rural industry was not the only factor affecting marriage behavior, but it certainly was a factor in many places.


Early in the discussion of protoindustrialization Hans Medick argued that the intensification of cottage manufacturing produced more egalitarian male-female relationships than had been the case before. The key developments, in his view, were the increasing importance of women's earnings and the return of men's work to the house. As a result, he argued, the sexual division of labor was eased, both in paid work and in the household. Women and men worked alongside each other, and men took over previously female housekeeping tasks. Being able to choose among the entire group of people who worked for the merchants increased the range of marriage partners. Moreover, Medick argued, working together within the confined space of the peasant house led to greater eroticism. As evidence he cited the lowering of marriage ages, middle-class observations about the "shameless freedom" of young men and women, and men's and women's joint participation in the consumption of alcohol and tobacco at home and in the taverns and cafés that followed in the wake of the putting-out merchants (1976, pp. 310—314). Medick might have added, but did not, that protoindustrialization also made it unnecessary for men to migrate during the winter months to find work (Collins, 1982, p. 140; Braun, 1966, p. 64).

Medick's statements addressed a question that women's historians had been asking for a long time: have economic changes improved or impaired women's lives and raised or lowered their status or power in the family, the workplace, and the community? Medick's answer was clearly that protoindustrialization improved women's lives and raised their status, but it is not an answer that further research has sustained, even though virtually all protoindustries provided jobs for women.

Women were employed in whatever manufacturing work was available in rural areas, although a sexual division of tasks was maintained in most, if not all, places. Women worked in large numbers across the English metal trades. They participated in the manufacture of buttons, toys, farm implements, cutlery, swords, and guns. In and around Birmingham they polished, japanned, lacquered, pierced, cut, and decorated metal. In the West Midlands they worked with hammers and anvils and pounded hot metal into nails (Berg, 1987, p. 85–). The industry in which they were most likely to be employed, however, was textiles in their many varieties. Textiles is the protoindustry about which we know the most and in which the importance of women's work is most clearly documented.

In the eighteenth century women spun and performed other preparatory tasks for men who wove. This division of labor produced more jobs for women than for men. The Flemish linen industry employed four female spinners and one and a half workers in ancillary tasks (performed by women and children of both sexes) for every male weaver (Mendels, 1981, p. 200). In peasant families of northwestern and western Ireland women spun and men wove flax for the merchants. The imbalance in labor demand for these tasks was so great that groups of single women moved around the countryside, working for one weaving family after another in return for room and board and a small amount of money. In those cases where the family grew its own flax, women were responsible for harvesting the plants, which further increased their workload. Children worked with their parents and often took responsibility for winding yarn onto shuttles for the weavers (Collins, 1982, pp. 130–134). In the Shepshed hosiery industry women spun yarn and men knit stockings. Boys and girls learned to perform ancillary tasks as young as age ten. There are no precise figures for the numbers of men and women who performed these tasks, but there is no reason to believe that the spinning-knitting labor ratio was lower than the spinning-weaving labor ratio, and it seems safe to assume that more women than men were working for the putting-out merchants (Levine, 1977, pp. 28–32). In the twenty-one villages in the canton of Auffay in Upper Normandy, 75 percent of adult women spun yarn for the cotton merchants. In contrast, only 15.6 percent of the men were employed in weaving (Gullickson, 1991, pp. 209–210).

The one place where a sexual division of labor was apparently not maintained in textiles was in the Zurich Highlands, although even here more women than men may have worked for the merchants. In the Highlands young men as well as young women spun yarn for the cotton merchants. (Both sexes also appear to have engaged in weaving, but their fabric was apparently sold only in local markets, which, by definition, means it was not a protoindustrial occupation.) Braun provides no count of the number of men and women who worked for the merchants, but because of the division of labor in agriculture, it is possible that women still were more likely than men to work for the merchants. This assumption fits with Braun's observation that in poor, but nevertheless landowning, families, daughters were more desirable than sons because they could produce more income (1966, p. 62).

When spinning was mechanized and moved into mills in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, much of the work that women had done for the merchants disappeared. The economic impact of the loss of these jobs was devastating in areas like northern Ireland and the Zurich Highlands, where they were not replaced by an increased demand for weavers. As one Swiss pastor observed in the eighteenth century, "These people came with cotton and must die with it." If they did not literally die, they confronted two basic choices—celibacy or migration (Braun, 1966, pp. 61, 64). In other areas like the Caux, north-central Ireland, Shepshed, and the Stephanois mountains, increased yarn production encouraged putting-out merchants to seek additional weavers and knitters, and women were able to move into occupations from which they had previously been excluded.

In Shepshed women continued to do ancillary tasks like winding and seaming, but they also became knitters. In the mid-nineteenth century 56 percent of the wives under age thirty-five were seamers or knitters (Levine, 1977, pp. 28–29). In many of the villages of the Caux the entry of women into weaving was far more dramatic. In the village of Auffay three times as many women as men were employed in weaving. In neighboring villages the ratios were as high as 8 to 1 (Gullickson, 1991, pp. 217–218). Farther south in the Stephanois mountains almost 88 percent of the ribbon weavers were women (Lehning, 1980, pp. 28–30, 40).

With the exception of north-central Ireland and perhaps the Zurich Highlands, the employment of women in protoindustries appears to have had little, if any, effect on their status within the family. In the eighteenth century the sexual division of labor made it easy to pay women less than men. In the nineteenth, when women entered weaving, the opportunity for equal pay for equal work came into existence in at least some places. In north-central Ireland the availability of mill-spun yarn made it possible for almost everyone—girls, boys, the aged, and the infirm—to weave the coarse fabric desired by the merchants and to earn as much as adult men (Collins, 1982, p. 140). But in the Caux merchants hired women and men to weave different fabrics. Women were assigned to calico production, for which the demand was growing, and men to heavier fabrics, for which demand was not growing. The decision provided more employment for women, but it also made it possible for merchants to continue to pay women less than men. Despite the importance of women's earnings, there is little basis on which to argue that this work improved women's status within their families or communities. Sexual divisions of labor were maintained more often than not, and employing women to do "men's work" did not necessarily entail equal pay.

There also is no evidence, other than that of the contemporary observers cited by Braun and Medick, that men took over women's domestic tasks so women could work for merchants. The same is true for Medick's statements about the impact of protoindustrialization on the affective and erotic aspects of male-female relationships. The contemporary criticisms of the peasant-workers' behavior that led to Braun's and Medick's conclusions that protoindustrialization broke not only the homeostatic demographic system but also the constraints society had imposed on erotic behavior may reflect a change that actually occurred in many areas. But the observations may not apply broadly or, worse yet for historians, may be off the mark. What church and government officials represented as seductive and lewd behavior may have been common among peasant women and men regardless of whether they worked in cottage manufacturing, or it may have been rare. Unfortunately, there is no good way to find out what the emotional and affective lives of peasants and peasant-workers were like. The evidence, however, does not substantiate the argument that women's earnings led to dramatic behavioral changes or to greater gender equality.


Protoindustrialization ended with the invention of machinery that was too large, too expensive, or too in need of a nonhuman source of power to be placed in people's homes. This development began, in essence, with the invention of spinning machines in Britain in the late eighteenth century and continued for at least a hundred years. Different tasks were mechanized at different times, and even when one task moved into a factory, associated tasks often continued to be put out into rural areas. But ultimately, anything resembling the massive putting-out industry known as protoindustrialization, where men, women, and children alternated agricultural and manufacturing work, came to an end.

In 1972 Mendels argued that protoindustrialization facilitated industrialization by creating a class with entrepreneurial experience, market contacts, and investment capital. These entrepreneurial merchants, he believed, became the builders of factories and the founders of industrialization proper. In some cases what Mendels and others (most notably, Kriedte, Medick, and Schlumbohm) expected did happen. The capital for building and equipping factories was often provided by the putting-out merchants, especially in textiles. They built textile mills and continued to compete for national and international markets and customers. The Rouen merchants who organized the rural cotton industry in the Caux are a case in point (Gullickson, 1981), as are the Manchester merchants who put work out into Lancashire (Walton, 1989).

But in many cases the urban merchants who had organized protoindustrial production did not succeed in transforming their putting-out businesses into modern industries. Instead, protoindustrialization was followed by deindustrialization. The mechanization of linen and cotton spinning destroyed both cottage weaving and cottage spinning in northwestern counties of Ireland (Collins, 1982, pp. 138–139). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries rural workers in the Weald of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex Counties in England produced large quantities of glass, iron, textiles, and timber products for markets in London and abroad. By the third decade of the nineteenth century all but the timber industry had died (Short, 1989). The same deindustrialization process occurred in early-nineteenth-century Silesia, which had been the scene of a thriving linen industry for two centuries (Kisch, in Kriedte, Medick, and Schlumbohm, pp. 541–564).

The deindustrialization of the towns and regions associated with protoindustrialization had many causes. In some cases, as Leslie A. Clarkson has pointed out, merchant capitalists invested their money not in the mechanization of their own trade but in other trades, some of them mechanized, some of them not. In East Anglia and western England merchants invested in farming, brewing, innkeeping, and retail trading, not textiles (p. 32). In other places a shortage of fuel, absence of raw materials, competition from other regions, and failure to keep up with intermediate developments prevented a transition to factory manufacturing. All of these factors spelled doom for manufacturing in the Weald (Short, 1989). In Silesia the Napoleonic wars disrupted markets, and local landlords refused to invest in the linen industry when mechanization called for it. In other places changes in fashion spelled doom to textile and lace industries (Coleman, 1983, p. 37).


Historical research has not upheld all aspects of Mendels's original notion of the role protoindustrialization played in the growth of the European and British population and economy, and debate about the concept continues. But the studies devoted to this topic have replaced the dichotomous pairings of rural and urban, traditional and modern, stagnant and dynamic that dominated historians' accounts of early modern Europe with a more varied and complex view. Industrialization seems a less abrupt development than it did before, as the Tillys predicted it would. We no longer see peasants as invariably devoted exclusively to farming, or manufacturing as an entirely urban activity. The urban and rural worlds no longer appear isolated from each other, and lines of influence no longer appear to have run in one direction only; developments in either place affected the other. Protoindustrialization may not have determined exactly where industrialization would occur, but it constituted a major transition in rural life and rural-urban relationships in the final decades of the old economic, social, and demographic regimes. It enabled regions to support a far larger rural population than agriculture alone could have done, cities to grow gradually rather than rapidly, and merchants to increase production for a long time without technological change. It made it possible for many rural men to cease short-term migrations in search of work, for women to make even larger contributions to the family's well-being than their work on farms and in small cottage industries had, and for many merchants to acquire the expertise and capital that would serve them well when it came time to build factories and increase production once again.

See alsoThe Population of Europe: Early Modern Demographic Patterns (in this volume);Artisans (volume 3);Gender and Work; Preindustrial Manufacturing (volume 4); and other articles in this section.


Agriculture, Cottage Industry, and Population

Braun, Rudolf. "The Impact of Cottage Industry on an Agricultural Population." In The Rise of Capitalism. Edited by David S. Landes. New York, 1966. Examines cottage industry in the Zurich Highlands. Forerunner of protoindustrial studies.

Hajnal, John. "European Marriage Patterns in Perspective." In Population in History. Edited by David Victor Glass and David Edward Charles Eversley. London, 1965. Identifies a unique western European marriage pattern.

Hufton, Olwen. "Women and the Family Economy in Eighteenth-Century France." French Historical Studies 9, no. 1 (1975): 1–22.

Jones, Eric. "The Agricultural Origins of Industry." Past and Present, no. 40 (1968): 58–71.

Laslett, Peter. The World We Have Lost. 1965. 2d ed., London, 1971. Uses demographic data to construct the early modern family, village, and society in England.

Tilly, Charles, and Richard Tilly. "Agenda for European Economic History in the 1970s." Journal of Economic History 31, no. 1 (1971): 184–198.


Berg, Maxine. The Age of Manufactures, 1700–1820: Industry, Innovation, and Work in Britain. 2d ed. London, 1994. See pages 66–74 for overview.

Clarkson, Leslie A. Proto-industrialization: The First Phase of Industrialization? London, 1985. Important critical analysis.

Coleman, D. C. "Proto-industrialization: A Concept Too Many?" Economic History Review, 2d ser., 36 (August 1983): 435–448. Skeptical critique, especially of the marxist version of protoindustrial theory.

Collins, Brenda. "The Organization of Sewing Out Work in Late Nineteenth-Century Ulster." In Markets and Manufacture in Early Industrial Europe. Edited by Maxine Berg. London, 1991.

Collins, Brenda. "Proto-industrialization and Pre-famine Emigration." Social History 7, no. 2 (1982): 127–146.

Gullickson, Gay L. Spinners and Weavers of Auffay: Rural Industry and the Sexual Division of Labor in a French Village, 1750–1850. New York, 1986. Analyzes women's roles. Challenges connection between subsistence farming and protoindustrialization.

Gutmann, Myron P., and René Leboutte. "Rethinking Protoindustrialization and the Family." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 14 (winter 1984): 587–607.

Houston, Rab, and K. D. M. Snell. "Proto-industrialization? Cottage Industry, Social Change, and Industrial Revolution." Historical Journal 27 (June 1984): 473–492. Skeptical of explanatory power of protoindustrial theory.

Hudson, Pat. "Proto-industrialisation: The Case of the West Riding Wool Textile Industry." History Workshop Journal 12 (1981): 34–61.

Kriedte, Peter, Hans Medick, and Jürgen Schlumbohm. Industrialization before Industrialization. Translated by Beate Schempp. Cambridge, U.K., 1981. Marxist version of the theory. Includes articles by Franklin Mendels and Herbert Kisch.

Lehning, James. "Nuptiality and Rural Industry: Families and Labor in the French Countryside." Journal of Family History 8 (winter 1983): 333–345.

Lehning, James. The Peasants of Marlhes: Economic Development and Family Organization in Nineteenth-Century France. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1980.

Levine, David. "The Demographic Implications of Rural Industrialization: A Family Reconstitution Study of Shepshed, Leicestershire, 1600–1851." Social History, no. 2 (1976): 177–196. Reprinted in Essays in Social History. Vol. 2. Edited by Pat Thane and Anthony Sutcliffe. Oxford, 1986.

Levine, David. Family Formation in an Age of Nascent Capitalism. New York, 1977. A major case study of framework knitting. Focuses on demographic behavior.

Mathias, Peter, and John A. Davis, eds. The First Industrial Revolutions. Oxford, 1990. See especially articles by Davis and Mathias.

Medick, Hans. "The Proto-industrial Family Economy: The Structural Function of Household and Family during the Transition from Peasant Society to Industrial Capitalism." Social History, no. 3 (1976): 291–315. Reprinted in Essays in Social History. Edited by Pat Thane and Anthony Sutcliffe. Oxford, 1986.

Mendels, Franklin F. Industrialization and Population Pressure in Eighteenth-Century Flanders. New York, 1981. His published dissertation. Written in 1969.

Mendels, Franklin F. "Proto-industrialization: The First Phase of the Industrialization Process." Journal of Economic History 32, no. 1 (1972): 241–61. The article that established the field.

Mendels, Franklin F. "Seasons and Regions in Agriculture and Industry during the Process of Industrialization." In Region und Industrialisierung. Edited by Sidney Pollard. Göttingen, 1980.

Rudolph, Richard. "Family Structure and Proto-industrialization in Russia." Journal of Economic History 40, no. 1 (1980): 111–118.

Rudolph, Richard, ed. The European Peasant Family and Society: Historical Studies. Liverpool, U.K., 1995.

Short, Brian. "The De-industrialisation Process: A Case Study of the Weald, 1600–1850." In Regions and Industries. Edited by Pat Hudson. Cambridge, U.K., 1989.

Walton, John K. "Proto-industrialisation and the First Industrial Revolution: The Case of Lancashire." In Regions and Industries. Edited by Pat Hudson. Cambridge, U.K., 1989.

Whyte, Ian D. "Proto-industrialisation in Scotland." In Regions and Industries. Edited by Pat Hudson. Cambridge, U.K., 1989.

Women and Protoindustrialization

Baulant, Micheline. "The Scattered Family: Another Aspect of Seventeenth-Century Demography." In Family and Society: Selections from the Annales, Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations. Edited by Robert Forster and Orest Ranum. Translated by Elborg Forster and Patricia M. Ranum. Baltimore, 1976.

Berg, Maxine. The Age of Manufactures, 1700–1820. 2d ed. London, 1994. See chapter 7, "Women, Children, and Work."

Berg, Maxine. "Women's Work, Mechanisation, and the Early Phases of Industrialisation in England." In The Historical Meanings of Work. Edited by Patrick Joyce. Cambridge, U.K., 1987.

Gullickson, Gay L. "Love and Power in the Proto-industrial Family." In Markets and Manufacture in Early Industrial Europe. Edited by Maxine Berg. London, 1991.

Gullickson, Gay L. "The Sexual Division of Labor in Cottage Industry and Agriculture in the Pays de Caux: Auffay, 1750–1850." French Historical Studies 12, no. 2 (1981): 177–199.

Ogilvie, Sheilagh C. "Women and Proto-industrialisation in a Corporate Society: Württemberg Woollen Weaving, 1590–1760." In Women's Work and the Family Economy in Historical Perspective. Edited by Pat Hudson and W. Robert Lee. Manchester, U.K., 1990.

General Histories of Industrialization That Incorporate Protoindustrialization

Gutmann, Myron. Toward the Modern Economy: Early Industry in Europe, 1500–1800. Philadelphia, 1988.

Pollard, Sidney. Peaceful Conquest: The Industrialization of Europe, 1760–1970. Oxford, 1981.

Rule, John. The Vital Century: England's Developing Economy, 1714–1815. London, 1992.