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Assessing the role of steam power in the first industrial revolution:The early work of Nick von Tunzelmann


Bruland, K and Smith, KH, Assessing the role of steam power in the first industrial revolution:The early work of Nick von Tunzelmann, Research Policy, 42, (10) pp. 1716-1723. ISSN 0048-7333 (2013) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V.

DOI: doi:10.1016/j.respol.2012.12.008


This article considers the historiographical and theoretical significance of Nicholas von Tunzelmann’s first book, Steam Power and British Industrialization to 1860. Von Tunzelmann assessed the quantitative impact of the Watt steam engine and its pirate copies on the British economy using the social savings method pioneered by R.W. Fogel, showing that the impact was smaller and later than many historians had supposed. These results are of more than quantitative significance because they call into question a dominant line in the history of industrialization that focuses on the steam engine as a key determinant of the dynamics of industrial growth in Britain from the late eighteenth century. This article discusses the origin of this line in the work of Arnold Toynbee and outlines its long-term influence on economic history, including contemporary debates on the question of why Europe outpaced China and India from the seventeenth century. These issues are important also for innovation studies, which often describes the relation between innovation and growth in terms of such ‘critical technologies’ as steam power; these accounts are subject to the same weaknesses as technicist histories of industrialization. Von Tunzelmann’s early work is therefore of continuing theoretical and empirical significance as we seek an adequate theory of the links between innovation and growth.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Steam power, Industrialisation, Technology dynamics, Energy innovation
Research Division:Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services
Research Group:Strategy, management and organisational behaviour
Research Field:Innovation management
Objective Division:Economic Framework
Objective Group:Management and productivity
Objective Field:Technological and organisational innovation
UTAS Author:Smith, KH (Professor Keith Smith)
ID Code:87757
Year Published:2013
Web of Science® Times Cited:7
Deposited By:Australian Innovation Research Centre
Deposited On:2013-12-04
Last Modified:2014-10-31

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