Early Modern European History Term Paper

European transition between traditional and modern. The writer concentrates on the organizational structure of the nations including industry. The industrial revolution has historically been portrayed as a major revolution and one from which a sudden transformation was born. The writer of this paper presents evidence that the revolution and the change from traditional to modern happened through a step-by-step process and not all at once.

The industrial revolution of Europe was one event during the total European transition from traditional to modern. Since the changes took place it has been commonly understood and accepted that it was a sudden change. Today many people believe there was an overnight transition and Europe woke up in the modern era.

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One can see how this has become an accepted theory but upon a closer look will be able to find flaws throughout the theory. The actual transitional period was much longer than commonly believed and it happened through a series of events cumulating in the eventual permanent place in the modern world.

While many people credit the industrial revolution for bringing Europe into the modern world one only has to look at the era just before the revolution to see the actual buildup of change that took place. The era before the revolution has been well documented as the Age of Crisis (De Vries, 1976).

The years between 1600-1750 were years of change and the development of a civilized economic structure for the continent. The developmental changes in the economic growth of Europe during the 17th and 18th century laid the foundational building blocks for the industrial revolution that has been credited with the changes that took place (De Vries, 1976).

One of the reasons the industrial revolution has been given the complete credit for the “sudden” change Europe experienced was because the elements of the industrial revolution were obvious. The development of machinery, manufacturing plants and other things that occurred in the industrial revolution are tangible and obvious changes that can be credited for the transition are easily defined. During the preceding years to the revolution, European society made many transitional moves toward the modern society it eventually became (De Vries, 1976).

Using economic reasoning one can easily understand the long transitional process involved in the end result.

Evidence of the steps that built the eventual change to modern society can be outlined through the use of macroeconomics. Macroeconomics applied to the centuries just prior to the industrial revolution will detail the building blocks that were laid by societal actions that in turn allowed the industrial revolution to sweep Europe into modern history.

Another factor that contributes to the belief that the industrial revolution was the sole cause of the transition was the fact that the region suffered a prolonged recession just prior to the industrial revolution. The recession stretched across the continent including Northern Italy (De Vries, 1976).

The recession caused such a slow down in the economic progress of the continent that it forced the nations involved to slow to the point of stagnating. This is true of most recessions and while it does indeed impact the end growth of the area it should not be ignored or believed to mean that the growth before hand never occurred. It was during this time that the building blocks were set so that the industrial explosion could occur the way it did (De Vries, 1976).

The building of the railway is what started the end of the recession and that in turn brought the industrial revolution to full swing. Before this occurred however many things had to be put into place so that the industrial revolution could occur.

Other aspects of civilization that contributed to the eventual boon for Europe included civil wars. Throughout history it has been documented and accepted by many experts that a war advances the economy of the nation that wins. The states have always enjoyed economic improvement when waging war even if the recession before the war was strangling the U.S. economy.

The wars of Europe also contributed to the advancement of the economy in Europe. The fighting that took place with France, England and other countries contributed first to the financial burdens of those nations and then later to the economic prosperity of those nations to claim victories in the war.

Turkish troops ravaging the country side as well as sectarian violence also contributed to the economy of Europe. The recession was threatening to choke the continent and in response to the recession many political and societal tensions flared. This caused wars to develop and those wars either destroyed various economies or strengthened them.

The social and economic turmoil that was experienced during these years set the stage for the later industrial revolution which was responsible for many of the successes and modernizations that the continent experienced.

Another factor in the movement between traditionalism and modernism for Europe was the English Revolution. The revolution lasted much longer than anyone anticipated that it would. It extended from the late 1620s to 1688. This was not a sudden revolution and its length fueled the transitional events that led to the eventual industrial revolution (De Vries, 1976).

If one wanted to liken this expanded experience to something tangible and current one could compare it to a football team. The quarterback receives much of the credit for winning the games but it is the defensive team’s prior actions that set the quarter back up to complete the pass that garners all of the accolades. This can be compared to the modernization of the European continent.

The years before the industrial revolution worked in much the same way that the defensive teams of football do. The years prior to the industrial revolution, through many events including civil wars and recession events, worked to set the later years up to look like sudden and huge successes regarding the transition from traditional to modern in that society.

During the 150 years between the beginning of the changes and the industrial revolution that brought it to success there were many things that occurred to help the process along. Those things included growth in the productivity levels and the output of products and services that increased the economic abilities and growth of the regions they occurred in.

The only explanation there seemed to be for that period in history, which was laying the foundation for the success of the industrial revolution, was the increase in effort and input. The population was steadily growing during this time and that increase in population mandated an increase in food development and harvest. The need for more food and fuel and other things was evident but there was not additional land by which to attain these things.

The English countryside was transformed between 1760 and 1830 as the open-field system of cultivation gave way to compact farms and enclosed fields. The rotation of nitrogen-fixing and cereal crops obviated the necessity of leaving a third or half the land fallow each planting. Another feature of the new farming was the cultivation of turnips and potatoes. Jethro Tull (1674-1741) and Lord Townshend popularized the importance of root crops. Tull’s most original contributions were the seed drill and horse hoe. The seed drill allowed a much greater proportion of the seed to germinate by planting it below the surface of the ground out of reach of the birds and wind. “Turnip” Townshend was famous for his cultivation of turnips and clover on his estate of Raynham in Norfolk” (Industrial Revolution (http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc2/lectures/industrialrev.html).

He introduced the four-course rotation of crops:

wheat turnips oats or barley clover.

Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) pioneered in the field of systematic stock breeding. Prior to this, sheep had been valued for wool and cattle for strength; Bakewell showed how to breed for food quality. Bakewell selected his animals, inbred them, kept elaborate genealogical records, and maintained his stock carefully. He was especially successful with sheep, and before the century’s end his principle of inbreeding was well established. Under Bakewell’s influence, Coke of Holkham in Norfolk not only improved his own farms, but every year held “sheep shearings” to which farmers from all over Europe came for instruction and the exchange of knowledge (Industrial Revolution (http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc2/lectures/industrialrev.html).”

Instead history has demonstrated that during those years there was more effort by those who lived in the area during the era to use the natural resources that were available and there were efforts to use them as wisely as possible so that there would be more product for the increasing population.

The increase in productivity can be directly correlated to the increase in urban growth according to some experts and historians. The need for better and more agriculture prompted a rise in the urban growth that regions experienced. It is well-known that the need for more materials and building supplies fueled an increase in many of the labor efforts that were experienced during the time.

The period before the industrial revolution links the growth in urban need to the increase in rural output. When those in urban areas needed more things the rural workers increased their input and their output to provide those goods and services. This caused the rural area to expand and improve alongside the urban improvements.

Europe during those 150 years did much of its business through long distance trade business. There were also falling prices that were enjoyed when it came to products of an exotic nature. This combined with long distance trade with Asia helped to increase the total sales and profit of the continent.

One of the next and most important contributors to the industrial revolution and the eventual success of the continent was the early 16th century of Germany. Germany experienced massive upheavals in its more rural areas during this time (Robisheaux, 1999).

The villages were filled with people who wanted more in their lives and they were no longer content to live in poverty situations while those in the urban areas began to experience the good life. The villages worked to create a semblance of order for themselves which was quite a task considering their confused and chaotic world. The religious wars raged throughout the region and those who were involved in trade and manufacturing were slowly achieving a measure of success.

In earlier years the families began to restructure themselves and they began to work toward common goals as families. By the mid-1600’s family order was a given throughout Germany and its rural lands. It was here in the European villages that the order began to become defined that would eventually contribute to the eventual industrial revolution and success. The individual village communities started to practice and toy with the idea of power within the village. While people gained power and clout the ability to provide structure and success began to take hold. It slowly evolved from individuals becoming powerful, to supporting groups to gaining power in other areas. The entire process took many years to take hold but once it did it was as stepping stone to the success that would later be enjoyed throughout the continent. Along the way to success however Germany had several uprisings of village residents against the system that they felt was holding them back from attaining the success they worked for (Robisheaux, 1999).

The foundational foothold for a structured society has often been credited to the industrial revolution and believed to be a sudden event, but in reality it was deeply embedded in the early years of Germany and its success continued to push society forward toward what would become the industrial revolution.

The search for order in the social realm was something that spanned hundreds of years though it seems to today’s historians to have happened quickly. It was done with small steps as villagers and urbanites tested ideas and theories of structure. Those that worked were kept and those that were not working were given up for new ideas. It is what all societies have been built on and this was no exception (Robisheaux, 1999).

If one wants to examine just how far back the transformation began one can easily trace it to the 1300’s and the 1400’s (Farr). These two centuries were filled with artists who improved the economic areas that they sold their wares in. During this time women and men served as artists, apprentices and journeymen in their quest to find success and better lives for themselves and their loved ones. The treatment of these artists was one of higher standards therefore when an artist was n the midst there were efforts made to raise the immediate group and area to a social height that was worthy of the artist. This carried through many areas and anytime artists were being entertained it lifted the total mindset of those who were around (Farr).

Beginning with the end of the plague historians can trace a successive pattern to the success of the industrial revolution. It is not something that happened suddenly nor were there only one or two components involved. The industrial revolution was primed and readied for hundreds of years before it actually happened.

Nobility began to decline during the transition from traditional to modern as well. While there are still royal families the power and clout of nobility began to lose its importance during the transition from traditional to modern. During the industrial revolution the importance of nobility was all but set aside and in its place was the importance of manufacturing, tools and machinery designed to improve the ability to manufacture products (Dewald). The industrial revolution was about more than manufacturing. It also dealt with transportation and other things that made the world a much easier place to live. Once these things were established, Europe could step boldly into the modern age with the rest of the world.

The Industrial Revolution may be defined as the application of power-driven machinery to manufacturing. It had its beginning in remote times, and is still continuing in some places. In the eighteenth century all of western Europe began to industrialize rapidly, but in England the process was most highly accelerated. England’s head start may be attributed to the emergence of a number of simultaneous factors (Industrial Revolution (http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc2/lectures/industrialrev.html).”

Britain had burned up her magnificent oak forests in its fireplaces, but large deposits of coal were still available for industrial fuel. There was an abundant labor supply to mine coal and iron, and to man the factories. From the old commercial empire there remained a fleet, and England still possessed colonies to furnish raw materials and act as captive markets for manufactured goods (Industrial Revolution (http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc2/lectures/industrialrev.html).” “Tobacco merchants of Glasgow and tea merchants of London and Bristol had capital to invest and the technical know-how derived from the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Last, but not least important, the insularity of England saved industrial development from being interrupted by war. Soon all western Europe was more or less industrialized, and the coming of electricity and cheap steel after 1850 further speeded the process” (Industrial Revolution (http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc2/lectures/industrialrev.html).


The industrial revolution has been credited with bringing Europe from the old world to the modern world. On first glance it may appear that way but if one takes a closer look one will see that it was actually a long process that spanned hundreds of years. Beginning with the artisians, and the ending of the religious wars, and moving through the agricultural changes and the village uprisings the foundational steps were laid so that the industrial revolution was a natural final step to taking Europe into the modern world. The history of this process can be taken apart in steps and with a reverse engineering styled concept it can be traced to its roots. While the industrial revolution did in fact contribute to the modernization and the completing of the current European abilities there were many steps and many years that led to the beginning of that time.


Industrial Revolution (http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc2/lectures/industrialrev.html).

Jan de Vries, The Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis.

-Thomas Robisheaux, Rural Society and the Search for Order

-James Farr, Artisans in Europe

-Jonathan DeWald, The European Nobility

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