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Key findings and achievements

Key findings and achievements

This country now has much the best long-run quantitative description of its economic history of any country in the world. Its core is a set of high spatial resolution (c.11,000 -15,000 spatial units) quantitative datasets of male occupational structure. These data have transformed our view of the Industrial Revolution, the world's first transition to modern economic growth by: (i) overturning more than a century of scholarship which assumed the growth in the share of secondary sector employment took place during the Industrial Revolution 1750-1850 by documenting that this shift was essentially complete by 1700; (ii) showing that the most rapidly growing sector of employment throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the tertiary sector; (iii) identifying a massive fall in female labour force participation rates in the decades around 1800 which did not recover until the second half of the twentieth century; (iv) partially restoring an older view of the centrality of technologically driven productivity change in manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution (v) demonstrating that an adequate understanding of the Industrial Revolution has to move beyond national aggregates and put spatial changes centre stage, because the eighteenth century saw a massive shift in the spatial concentration of industry accompanied by very substantial de-industrialisation elsewhere. The OSB has established the systematic study of historical occupational structure as an emerging field of enquiry with the UK at its leading edge. As a result of our lead, research groups around the world are now working on quantitative studies of long-run occupational structure in 38 countries on five continents. One early result of international comparative work has been to overturn a deeply entrenched multi-disciplinary scholarly orthodoxy about the standard sequence of changes in occupational structure during economic development which assumes that the transition to modern economic growth is accompanied by a major structural shift in employment from the primary to the secondary sector and only at a much later stage to the tertiary sector. In fact that presumed sequence is highly unusual in the historic record. Moreover, anterior changes in occupational structure appear to be a precondition for the transition to modern economic growth. These findings require a rethinking of models of economic development.

Whilst all the findings above derive from nationally aggregated datasets, the most methodologically innovative aspect of the OSB had been to construct spatially comprehensive high spatial resolution datasets that are all interlinked through a GIS (geographical information system) framework. The occupational and population datasets created are fully scalable, making it possible to analyse the economic development of individual towns and villages, regions, national and indeed supra-national entities all using the same harmonised metric. Datasets on: property values; welfare expenditures; locations of markets; locations of C18th steam engines; soil quality have also been created and linked to the GIS framework. All the local units represented in these datasets where of course linked together by changing transport infrastructures and we have created datasets representing the evolving: road, river, canal, coastal shipping and rail networks. These inter-linked datasets open up entirely new approaches for the study of economic and social history which we have only just begun to explore and which probably require new methods of analysis. Across a series of projects, we have created the rudiments of a 'research data infrastructure' for pre-twentieth century British economic and social history with virtually unlimited re-use potential. Some sense of the potential of these datasets to support other scholarly work, across various disciplines, can be obtained by perusing the list of over 100 research groups now using our datasets and the list of publications arising from such third party work. The come not just from economic historians but also from archaeologists, business historians, economists, historical geographers, medical historians, social historians, sociologists, policy makers, political scientists, and even psychologists.