Coppering the Industrial Revolution: History, Materiality and Culture in the Making of an Ecological Regime

Keywords: copper, Industrial Revolution, ecological regime, Figure-ground movement

Abstract

No copper, no Industrial Revolution. Although accountants listed it in the very last position in the table of “value added” per sector in 1831, the British copper industry was essential for the Industrial Revolution, the period of British hegemony over the world-economy. In this article, I use the figure-ground method proposed by Terence K. Hopkins to show that the copper industry played key roles in the ecological regime of the 1700-1840 period, due to its material properties and related historical contingencies and cultural valuations. By focusing in on particular production processes, historical contingencies, and cultural phenomena in which copper played an important and unique role, and then zooming out again to the world-economy as a whole, I show that an Industrial Revolution would not have happened without copper. From sugar production in the Caribbean to textile printing, from the slave trade to the Battle of Saintes, from the development of the steam engine to gin and rum production, from the telegraph to buckles and buttons, copper was conspicuous. This demonstrates the ecological regime of the period, in which the removal of a single commodity from the picture—i.e., copper—disrupts the whole constellation of relations. This study also shows that a “copper boom” immediately before and at the start of the Industrial Revolution (~1700-1800), instrumental in the British struggle against France for the hegemony over the world-economy, has been overlooked in the literature. Additionally, the article includes a reflection on method.

Author Biography

Daniel Cunha, Binghamton University
PhD Candidate, Binghamton University

References

Allen, Robert C. 2009 The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Baines, Edward. 1835. History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain. London: H. Fischer.

Barton, Roger N. 2014. “The Birth of Telegraphic News in Britain, 1847-68.” Media History 16(4): 379-406.

Berg, Maxine. 1994. The Age of Manufactures, 1700-1820: Industry, Innovation and Work in Britain. New York: Routledge.

Blackburn, Robin. 1997. The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern 1492-1800. New York: Verso.

Blake-Coleman, B. C. 1992. Copper Wire and Electrical Conductors: The Shaping of a Technology. Pennsylvania: Harwood.

Burt, Roger. 1995. “The Transformation of the Non-Ferrous Metals Industries in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” Economic History Review XLVIII(I):23-45.

Chapman, S. D. and S. Chassagne. 1981. European Textile Printers in the Eighteenth Century: A Study of Peel and Oberkampf. London: Heinemann.

Cock, Randolph. 2001. “’The Finest Invention in the World’: the Royal Navy’s Early Trials of Copper Sheathing, 1708-1770.” The Mariner’s Mirror 87(4):446-459.

Crafts, N. F. R. 1985. British Economic Growth During the Industrial Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon.

Deane, Phyllis and W. A. Cole. 1962. British Economic Growth 1688-1959. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Encyclopedia Britannica. 1911. Vol. XXVI. 11th ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Engels, Friedrich. 2009/1845. The Condition of the Working Class in England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Farey, John. 1827. Treatise on the Steam Engine: Historical, Practical and Descriptive. London: Longman.

Fryer, Peter. 1984 Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain. London: Pluto Press.

Galloway, J. H. 1989. The Sugar Cane Industry: An Historical Geography From its Origins to 1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hamilton, Henry. 1926/1967. The English Brass and Copper Industries to 1800. New York: Frank Cass.

Harris, J. R. 1964. The Copper King: A Biography of Thomas Williams of Llanidan. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press.

Harris, J. 1966. “Copper and Shipping in the Eighteenth Century.” The Economic History Review 19(3): 550-568.

Herbert, Eugenia W. 1973. “Aspects of the Use of Copper in Pre-Colonial West Africa.” Journal of African History XIV(2):179-194.

Herbert, Eugenia W. 1984. The Red Gold of Africa: Copper in Precolonial History and Culture.” Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Higman, B. W. 2000. “The Sugar Revolution.” Economic History Review LIII(2):213-236.

Hills, Richard L. 1989. Power From Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hobsbawm, Eric. 1968. Industry and Empire: From 1750 to the Present Day. New York: The New Press.

Hopkins, Terence. 1982. “World-Systems Analysis: Methodological Issues”. Pp. 145-158 in World-sytems analysis: theory and methodology, edited by I. Wallerstein and T. Hopkins. Beverly Hills: Sage.

Inikori, Joseph E. 2002. Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkin, A. K. Hamilton. 1972/1927. The Cornish Miner: An Account of his Life Above and Underground from Early Times. 4th ed. South Devon: David & Charles.

John, A. H. 1955. “War and the English Economy, 1700-1763.” The Economic History Review 7(3):329-344.

Johnson, Walter. 2013. River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom. Cambridge: Belknap.

Knight, R. J. B. 1973. “The Introduction of Copper Sheathing into the Royal Navy, 1779-1786.” The Mariner’s Mirror 59(3):299-309.

Lavery, Brian. 2012. Empire of the Seas: The Remarkable Story of How the Navy Forged the Modern World. London: Conway.

Lemon, Charles. 1838. “The Statistics of the Copper Mines in Cornwall.” Journal of the Statistical Society of London 1(2):65-84.

Lentin, Augustin G. L. 1800. Briefe uber die Insel Anglesea.

Leipzig: S. L. Crusius.

Lewis, Michael J. and Tom W. Young. 2002. Brewing. 2nd ed. New York: Kluwer.

Liffen, John. 2010. “The Introduction of the Electric Telegraph in Britain, a Reappraisal of the Work of Cooke and Wheatstone.” International Journal for the History of Engineering and Technology 80(2):268-299.

Malm, Andreas. 2016. Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. New York: Verso.

Mantoux, Paul. 1928/1961. The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century. London: Jonathan Cape.

Marx, Karl. 1867/1990. Capital: a Critique of Political Economy. Trans. B. Fowkes. Vol. 1. London: Penguin.

Mathias, Peter. 1979. The Formation of England. London: Methuen.

Mintz, Sidney W. 1985 Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. London: Penguin.

Moore, Jason W. 2000. “Sugar and the Expansion of the Early Modern World-Economy: Commodity Frontiers, Ecological Transformation and Industrialization.” Review 23(3):409-433.

Moore, Jason W. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. New York: Verso.

Morgan, Kenneth. 1993. Bristol and the Atlantic Trade in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parkes, Samuel. 1830. Chemical Essays. London: Baldwin and Cradock.

Pryce, W. 1778. Mineralogia Cornubiensis. London: J. Phillips.

Rees, Gareth. 1971. “Copper Sheathing: An Example of Technological Diffusion in the English Merchant Fleet.” Journal of Transport History 1(2):85-94.

Rees, Ronald. 2000. King Copper: South Wales and the Copper Trade. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Report From the Committee Appointed to enquire into the state of the copper mines and copper trade of this kingdom. 1799. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433087566752 (accessed 03.18.2019)

Rowe, John. 1953. Cornwall in the Age of the Industrial Revolution. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Sayer, Derek. 1987. The Violence of Abstraction: The Analytic Foundations of Historical Materialism. New York: Basil Backwell.

Schievelbusch, Wolfgang. 1992. Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants and Intoxicants. New York: Pantheon.

Selwood, E. B, E. M Durrance and C. M Bristow. 1998. The Geology of Cornwall. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

Smiles, Samuel. 1890. Men of Invention and Industry. London: J. Murray.

Smith, Frederick H. 2004. “Spirits and Spirituality: Enslaved Persons and Alcohol in West Africa and the British and French Caribbean.” The Journal of Caribbean History 38(2):279-309.

Solar, Peter M. 2013. “Opening the East: Shipping Between Europe and Asia, 1770-1830.” The Journal of Economic History 73(3):625-661.

Solar, Peter M. and Klas Ronnback. 2015. “Copper Sheathing and the British Slave Trade.” Economic History Review 68(3):806-829.

Stevens, William O. and Allan Wescott. 1920. A History of Sea Power. New York: George H. Doran.

Tann, Jennifer. 1995. “Riches From Copper: The Adoption of the Boulton & Watt Engine by Cornish Mine Adventurers.” Transactions of the Newcomen Society 67(1):27-51.

Tomich, Dale. 1990. Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar: Martinique and the World Economy, 1830-1848. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Tomich, Dale. 2004. “The ‘Second Slavery’: Bonded Labor and the Transformation of the Nineteenth Century World-Economy”. Pp. 56-74 Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital and World-Economy, D. Tomich. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Tomich, Dale. 2015. “Commodity Frontiers, Spatial Economy, and Technological Innovation in the Caribbean Sugar Industry, 1783-1878.” Pp. 184-216 in The Caribbean and the Atlantic World Economy, edited by A. B. Leonar and D. Pretel. New York: Palgrave.

Tozer, Jane and Sarah Levitt. 1983. The Fabric of Society: A Century of People and their Clothes 1770-1870. Carno: Ashley.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1989. The Modern World-System III: The Second Era of Great Expansion of the Capitalist World-Economy, 1730-1840. San Diego: Academic Press.

Williams, Eric. 1994/1944. Capitalism & Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Zahedieh, Nuala. 2013. “Colonies, Copper, and the Market for Inventive Activity in England and Wales, 1680-1730.” Economic History Review 66(3):805-825.

Published
2020-03-02
How to Cite
Cunha, D. (2020). Coppering the Industrial Revolution: History, Materiality and Culture in the Making of an Ecological Regime. Journal of World-Systems Research, 26(1), 40–69. https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2020.917
Section
Research Articles