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The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure

Department of Geography and Faculty of History


The origins and significance of Catalan industrialisation, c.1680-1829

The origins and significance of Catalan industrialisation, c.1680-1829

The investigator, Dr Julie Marfany, was a PhD student at the Cambridge Group (1999-2003) and is now a Junior Research Fellow at Homerton College (2003-6), associated with the Group.

This research investigates the origins and development of Catalan industrialisation over the long eighteenth century, using a case study of a textile town, Igualada. Catalonia was unique among the regions of southern "peripheral" Europe in industrialising at this time. As such, the region provides an interesting contrast with the "core" regions of northern Europe that have received most attention from historians. Recent work has stressed the importance of rural, dispersed, domestic manufacture (proto-industry), first in wool and then in cotton, in shaping the transition to the factory in Catalonia. The Igualada case study illustrates this relationship well. Using a variety of sources, important continuities can be traced through the different phases of industrial organisation in terms of human capital and scale of production. The family continued to be the main unit of production throughout, with important consequences for family formation and population growth, as Dr Marfany's PhD demonstrated. The example of Catalonia suggests that historians should not be hasty in dismissing proto-industrialisation as an important force in European industrialisation.

Current and ongoing work uses land transactions and inventories post mortem to investigate further the impact of proto-industrialisation, and to address key questions in the literature on the European industrial revolution that have yet to be examined in detail by historians of Catalonia. One important theme is the relationship between proto-industry and landholding. In the Igualada area, landholding was small-scale compared to other areas. Like other areas of Catalonia, however, this was a period of expanding viticulture, through the medium of sharecropping contracts. One question is whether small-scale landholding facilitated and, indeed, necessitated the emergence of proto-industry as an alternative source of income. Another question is whether proto-industrialisation helped to break down constraints on landownership and thus to create a market in land and, ultimately, to pave the way towards agrarian capitalism. A second important theme is the role played by consumer demand in the Catalan industrial revolution, a role highlighted for other areas of Europe, notably England. Did changing consumption patterns drive production? Did industrialisation create a proletarianised and impoverished population, as other evidence suggests? The research aims to show that knowledge of the Catalan experience could provide a valuable additional dimension to our understanding of the European industrial revolution.