Learning from India: Industrial Surveys in Eighteenth-Century India



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The Knowledge of Manufactures: Industrial Surveys in Eighteenth-Century India
Seminar on ‘Society, Culture and Belief, 1500-1800’

Institute of Historical Research, London

18 November, 2010
Introduction:
My work in recent years, and the project on which I am now embarking with a team of postdocs and PhD students has been addressed to the impact of 17th and 18thC trade with Asia in luxury and consumer goods on Europe’s consumer and industrial revolutions.
At a time when manufacturing and industrial development was a key issue of state and economy in Europe, political economists, mercantilist writers and enlightened savants debated the role of manufacturing and trade in economic improvement. A part of this debate included much discussion of the recent trade in Asian goods, no longer limited to spices, medical and botanical specimens, but a major trade in manufactured consumer goods, especially cotton textiles and porcelain. A major part of the political economy of Europe, not only in the writings of individuals, but in the wider culture of commercial tracts, encyclopedias and dictionaries of commerce, and Europe’s many improvement and scientific societies was the new topic of Asia. New colonial and projecting policies emerged out of discussions of Asian commodities, policies for adapting these, building European markets for them, and ideas on alternative sources of supply and substitute products.
I argue that this is the period when major export-ware industrial sectors were established, both in Asia and in Europe; designing for and supplying wider world markets became a key priority of economic policy, as well as the manufacturers, merchants projectors and political economy that underlay this.
The size of the Asian export –ware sector and its impact on Europe should not be underestimated. This was no small trade in preciosities for elites and courts. Jan de Vries has estimated recently that Europeans by the late 18thC. brought in about 50,000 tons a year of goods from Asia, including tea, raw materials, medicines and manufactures; they consumed an average of one pound of Asian goods per year during the eighteenth century. The VOC alone imported 43 million pieces of porcelain between th beginning of the 17th C. and the end of the 18thC. The EIC imported nearly 3 million pieces of textile in the hundred years between 1670 and 1760.
There was good reason for keen interest and investigation of how these goods were produced and distributed, and many projects for developing or extending them.
Today, there I will discuss how that export-ware sector and Indian industry more generally was investigated and written about by European savants in the later 18th C.
Adam Smith in Book IV of the Wealth of Nations argued that ‘the discovery of a passage to the East Indies, by the Cape of Good Hope,’ opened a ‘a still more extensive range to foreign commerce than even that of America, notwithstanding the greater distance…the empires of China, Indostan, Japan, as well as several others in the East Indies….were in every other respect much richer, better cultivated, and more advanced in all arts and manufactures than either Mexico or Peru.’

He continued that ‘Europe, however, has hitherto derived much less advantage from this commerce with the east Indies, than from that with America.’ He explained this by the exclusive privileges of the East India Companies. ‘The English, French, Swedes and Danes have all followed their [the Dutch] example, so that no great nation in Europe has ever yet had the benefit of a free commerce to the East Indies.’ (WN IV, I, 499)

Despite these limits posed by monopolies, the trade, as we have seen was extensive. It provoked vigorous debate among economic thinkers, improvers and state policy makers.
In addition to debate there was also considerable European travel and investigation centres of Asian craft goods, and detailed analysis of production processes. There has in recent years been extensive research on travel literature in Asia and on botany and other scientific and medical practices. But few have turned their discussion to European curiosity, investigation and analysis of Asian industry.
There are several frameworks within which we might set the industrial surveys I will discuss:

1st. An orientalist literature. This literature conveyed a land of artisans and husbandmen living in perpetual misery, and exploited by merchants, princes and noblemen. Max Weber described oriental merchants as mere pedlars. Orme Historical Fragments of the Mogul Empire (1783) described unchanging processes in textiles passed on through families for generations. This literature contrasted hereditary and static work process along with degraded workforces with the dynamism and enterprise of European artisans.


2nd A postcolonialist literature that posed the decline of Indian industry and technology with colonialism. This research argued that colonialism displaced Indian indigenous knowledge with programmes of Western science and technologies ‘useful to the imperialists’.
3rd. A case for the ‘great divergence’. Pomeranz’s ‘great divergence’ was mainly about China and Europe. It focussed moreover on land and resources. China was much less well-endowed with land and coal than was Europe, and had to adapt accordingly. Debates since on divergence in paths of economic growth between India and Europe have focussed on costs of capital and labour. Robert Allen, for instance, has argued that India’s highly labour-intensive processes did not induce innovation, and that China’s low wages and high energy costs led it to concentrate on energy-saving rather than labour-saving processes. The result did not induce mechanisation.

A recent article in the Journal of Global History by Tirthankar Roy has outlined a more sophisticated institutional approach, arguing there was less experimentation on capital goods in India. Institutional settings of caste and craft communities limited artisan movement among groups with different, but complementary skills.


4th The enlightenment project of ‘useful knowledge’.

Global histories have given much less attention to what have come to be called ‘knowledge economies’. What part did ‘useful knowledge’ play in leading Europe, and especially Britain into industrialization? This question has led Joel Mokyr in his recent The Enlightened Economy into the study of the public culture of knowledge which he claimed in Europe connected ‘savants’ to ‘fabricants’. A major part of his source material for this claim were the many surveys of manufactures especially popularized in the dictionaries of commerce and encyclopedias of industry and trade.

But thus far there has been a disjuncture between studies of trade, colonialism and empire and those of manufacture, industry and technology in Europe. It is time to bring these worlds of scholarship together. I want to start this process today by setting out recent hypotheses and findings on connections between the knowledge economy and industrialization in Europe, and then to investigate parallel attempts among European (in the case of this paper, mainly British) natural historians and industrial surveyors to gather Indian ‘useful knowledge’ for presentation to East India Companies, European readers and manufacturers.
My purposes today will be the limited one of identifying a particular set of literatures of ‘useful’ knowledge, and of connecting these to that European enlightenment project.

There are, however, much further directions in which we might take this. We might ask, for instance,



  1. Are there connections to be drawn between the ‘useful knowledge’ gathered in India by Europeans and the ‘useful knowledge’ which contributed to the industrialization of the British cotton industry?

  2. Were Eastern knowledge systems similarly codified to Europe’s ‘codified’ useful knowledge?

  3. Was there dialogue between ‘savants’ and fabricants?




  1. did the great migrations and mobility of Asia’s craftsmen provide conduits of knowledge transmission in the way that Europe’s did?

Let us look first at new findings on connections between ‘useful knowledge’ and British Industrialization. What do recent economic historians mean by ‘useful knowledge’?



  • Simon Kuznets 1965:‘useful knowledge’ was the source of modern economic growth. (Kuznets, Simon, Economic Growth and Structure: Selected Essays (New York, 1965).

This argument has been taken up anew in very recent years as a key to the explanation of Western industrialization. It extends far beyond science, to include what historians, Joel Mokyr, S.R. Epstein and Robert Allen refer to as tacit and codified knowledge.

Now the issues are the role of human skills and ‘tacit’ knowledge and of ‘codified’ knowledge which extends far beyond the old boundaries of history of science.

Mokyr, The Gifts of Athena (2002); The Enlightened Economy (2009)

Mokyr defined Useful knowledge to include knowledge of what; and knowledge of how. He argued that the West developed a very specific ‘useful knowledge’, and concluded that the ‘great divergence’ between the West and the rest of the world did not arise from differences in resource endowments, but from a ‘knowledge revolution’ that took place in the West and not elsewhere.’

Mokyr argued that the roots of industrial growth lay in a peculiarly European industrial Enlightenment, a culture of science, of practice and belief in material progress. This included a



  • Pan-European industrial enlightenment – travel and translation

  • Urbanization and technological change.

  • multicentrism of European knowledge

Mokyr defined useful knowledge as knowledge of natural phenomena that might be manipulated by human endeavour. This includes not just what is now recognized as science, but practical and informal knowledge. It encompasses the work of those who collected observations, who compiled dictionaries and encyclopedias of arts and manufactures as well as scientific hypotheses and investigations. It included descriptions of industrial skills and crafts. Earlier historians had assumed this artisan knowledge to be ‘secret’ or unintelligible except by practitioners.

He argued that ‘useful knowledge’ was more accessible than historians had previously assumed, and that it was more European.
Mokyr, and indeed his critics, Epstein and Allen all believed that this knowledge revolution was Europe’s ‘miracle’ over the rest of the world.
Their findings, based on what they knew of Europe led them to make large claims about the rest of the world.
‘Many societies we associate with technological stasis were full of highly skilled artisans, not least of all Southern and Eastern Asia.’

‘there is no doubt the Chinese lacked the aggressive curiosity of the Europeans.’




Knowledge and the Challenge to Global History

Kuznet’s ‘wealth and knowledge’ thus provides the new challenge to global historians.


First – the surveys of manufactures and many publications, dictionaries and encyclopedias of industry which have provided historians with their knowledge of European advances were not confined to Europe.
We certainly need to investigate how knowledge was codified, collected and transmitted within India and China.
But my concerns today are the more limited ones of investigating the wider world surveys of manufactures and industry made by European travellers, natural philosophers and natural historians, by merchants and by agents of the East India Companies.
The first is the attempts of British naturalists and officials to give an account of the manufacturing processes they encountered in India.

Some of these believed that the Indian knowledge tradition was wholly an oral one. Helenus Scott wrote to Joseph Banks in a series of letters 1790-1801,


‘As their knowledge of the arts is never communicated by writing nor printing nor their experience reduced to general laws by theory the difficulty of information is again increased.’
All of the accounts I have thus far read understood the tacit and local framework of the knowledge they encountered, yet they tried to describe the processes at length, and frequently deployed diagrams to do so.
The group of accounts based in India on which I have been working recently was clustered especially in the 1780s and 1790s. It described technologies in industries ranging from iron processing, salt petre and soda manufacture to diamond mining and refining; it included many detailed accounts of fine cotton and silk manufacture, indigo and cotton cultivation and processing, attempts to establish cochineal production, and other dyeing processes. Some of these writers were naturalists, also corresponding with William Roxburgh and Christophe John– they included Benjamin Heyne and James Anderson. Others were Dr. Anton Hove, and John Taylor.

These individuals were not all British – Anton Hove was Polish, but had worked in Britain for some time before his expedition, and had close connections with Joseph Banks.

Father Christophe John (1747-1813) was a Danish missionary, and the leader of the Halle-Moravian mission in Tranquebar. Benjamin Heyne was also a member of the mission. This group of pietist missionaries was skilled in South Indian languages and Sanskrit, and formed a serious centre for the study of natural history in South India. Its members maintained close connections with a number of British surgeons in Madras, and especially with the botanist, William Roxburgh who went eventually to direct the Botanic Garden in Calcutta. This group collected information and experimented on plants, some were informed on animals, they wrote on local customs and culture, and notably they investigated Indian industry, and were especially interested in economic botany. They corresponded widely in India and in Europe.

While some have written on these individuals as botanists or as missionaries, I want to approach them as industrial investigators.

They viewed Indian skills and knowledge through the prisms of European priorities and comparisons. But they were also curious, and keen to understand and to extend industrial crops and processes, and to adapt and transfer these to Europe or to other global settings. They were, above all, attempting to codify the tacit and local knowledge they were witnessing.

Today I will look at industrial accounts among two different groups and settings:

1. Industry in South India. I have found these accounts particularly through correspondence with the Tranquebar Mission during the 1780s and 1790s.

2. Dr. Anton Hove’s survey of cotton cultivation and manufacture in Gujarat in 1787

The group of accounts I cover today does not include the extremely detailed and very fine account by John Taylor of the Dacca muslin manufacture. Taylor was the Commercial Resident of Dacca. His detailed accounts were sent to the Board of Trade in Calcutta in 1792 and 1800. A version of his reports was published in 1850 in preparation for the Great Exhibition, and these reports have been extensively used by historians of Bengal, especially Sushil Chaudhury. Nor does it include another set of accounts of the textile manufacture of Surat was gathered in a survey in 1795, and reported as the Chief’s Minute to the Commercial Board.
Surveys of Manufacture in South India:

Several recently have written of the medical and botanical advances of the Pietist missionaries fromHalle, Saxony and later the Moravians at the Danish factory at Tranquebar in 1702. Over the period up to 1803 when the mission was abandoned, it attracted a number of surgeons and natural historians. These were not only missionaries and local practitioners, but maintained close contacts and correspondence with like-minded natural historians in the other South Indian factories, especially Madras, but also far beyond this to Europe, and to South East Asia, the Cape, and many other sites of botanic gardens and plantations. The Halle missionaries believed that it was education and science which would bring Christianity to India, and they started intensive collection of knowledge of South India – nature, medical practices, language, religious texts, custom and culture, and industry and agriculture. [ Hanco Jürgens, ‘On the Crossroads: Pietist, Orthodox and Enlightened Views on Mission in the Eighteenth Century’, in Andreas Gross, Y.V. Kumaradoss, H.Liebau, Halle and the Beginning of Protestant Christianity in India (2006) The Moravians followed the Halle Lutherans to Tranquebar in the middle of the 18thC., and included a remarkable group of surgeons and botanists including Johann Koenig, Christoph John, John Peter Rottler, Johann Klein and Benjamin Heyne. They corresponded closely with EIC botanists and surgeons including William Roxburgh, George Campbell and James Anderson, and notably with Joseph Banks.


Benjamin Heyne is the figure who most interests me. Heyne joined the mission at Tranquebar in 1791, but after a time did not find it to his temperament, and intended to return to Europe. John, hoping to keep his talents in India, asked Roxburgh if he might be employed on the pepper plantations at Samalkot, and he became a temporary botanist for the EIC. During the 1790s while in this post he conducted surveys on iron processing, copper manufacture, salt petre production, soda manufacture, diamond mining, madder and indigo cultivation and processing. These took him all over South India where he reported the difficulties of travel and access to knowledge, as well as well-informed observation of processes and context, both local geography and scientific theory and experiment.

He described journeys where ‘my suite consisted of near forty persons: twelve palankeen boys for myself, and one massalji (blambeau bearer); six boys and a massalji for my dubash’s duly; four coury culies to carry my baggage and provision, one draghtsman, two plant collectors, two peons, one servant four invalid sepoys etc…a small guard of armed men is…necessary as a protection from robbers and tigers…People in England have no conception of the labour and expense which it costs to obtain a box of insects or plants…’(Tracts, p. 245)

He frequently found great difficulties of access to the information he sought:

In the relatively wealthy country of the zamindar, Nasareddy he found the

‘bazaar is large and well provided tho’ such is the jealously of powers that a stranger cannot get anything without the zemindar’s particular leave even not a pan of rice or a pot which I affirm from melancholy experience having been starved there a whole day in the midst of plenty.’ (Roxburgh Mss. Eur D809 – notes p. 1)

He found superior copper in the mines of Callastry, Venkatygherry and Nellore ‘but everyone…seemed anxious to keep us ignorant of these mines’. There were similar accounts about limestone deposits.

‘This strange conduct originated in both places from the same cause: the mandate of the Rajah to conceal everything, as far as possible, from the prying eyes of an European.’ (Tracts, p. 112)

The saltpetre he found in the district of Bellumondah was ‘superior to any I think I have ever seen in India…it may become a matter of attention and speculation for the Europe market.’

During his report on his excursion to the diamond mines at Mallavilly he discussed debates over Boyle’s theories on gems. (Roxburgh MS D809, p. 18) He provided great detail on the soda manufacture along the Coromandel coast and its use in bleaching and glass manufacture. He also described a number of experiment he made and processes through to bleaching cotton clothes ‘in a way superior to what can be done in other countries…’it remains now to be determined, whether soda would fit the Europe market in the state in which it is sold in the bazaar – and if it be sufficiently cheap, to bear all expenses of merchandise.’ (Remarks on the Soda Prepared from an Earth Common on the Coast of Coromandel, Roxburgh Mss EUr D809 – notes p. 13).

Heyne sent his draft reports to Christophe John who sent them on to William Roxburgh. In their final form they ended up in the reports sent to the Board of Control of the East India Company.

Heyne went on in 1793 to Madras, and from there to run Roxburgh’s pepper and opuntia plantations in Samulcottah. In 1818 he published Tracts, Historical and Statistical, on India and Sumatra. This brought together some of these accounts of India’s natural resources with his studies of plants and medicines.

James Anderson (1738-1809) Physician General at Madras also corresponded closely with Christophe John, sending him many reports of his campaigns to cultivate sugar cane and American cotton and coffee, and to establish plantations of mulberry trees and Opuntia to establish silk and cochineal industries in India.

John’s very close networks with William Roxburgh were cemented through Roxburgh boarding his son with John who educated him in botany and other sciences, and John’s insistent gratitude for many gifts of textiles.

‘Mrs. John and I are most anxiously waiting for the kindly promised long cloth & chintz & if we don’t get them soon, we must return to the primitive state of Adam & Eve…’ (Sept. 29, 1789)

‘The chints for my family & the Hyderabad seeds are not yet arrived. Pray by what conveyance have you sent them? .. In my last letter I had mentioned some samples of cloth & chints for Mrs. John, which the wind or another accident had carried away during my writing…’ (20 June, 1791)

In return John sent to Roxburgh ‘all the books & publications on botanics you want’ (24 Nov. 1789).

My next accounts take us to the other side of the country – to Gujarat and Surat. These accounts form part of the process of information gathering on Indian textiles in Surat, Bombay and Gujarat during the early period of mechanisation of the industry in Britain.

2. Cotton Cultivation and Processing in Gujarat, Surat and Bombay

We can look to the reports on Surat and Gujarat as recounted in Dr. Anton Hove’s Journal of 1787. First we must be aware of the special circumstances of these reports. The textile industry providing the trade from Surat was of rising interest to the East India Company in the 1780s and 1790s. This is recounted in recent works by Lakshmi Subramaniam and Ghulam Nadri.

Surat emerged as a major centre for the production of textiles during the 1780s; by the early 1790s the city boasted 15,777 looms worked by specific weaving groups.

There was a great demand for the cloth produced there, but along with this concern over access to quality products: ‘a very small proportion of the weavers in Surat could manufacture the kind of goods that the company specified...”only the young and strong could reach the excellence of the Company’s fabric whereas old men, women and children can make such goods as foreigners and native merchants will purchase.”

The authority of the East India Company in the area was more limited than in other territories, most notably Bengal. The Company faced the threat of the Marathas, and also of a range of European private trades, especially the Portuguese, and the strength of groups of Indian merchants. (Subramaniam, p. 269)

The expanding trade of Europeans especially by private Portuguese merchants – encouraged weavers to turn out inferior cloth and to sell to the highest bidder.

The big problem in the 1780s and 1790s was one of deficiencies in quality and measurement

Another background was British concerns over access to adequate supplies of raw cotton at a time of disruptions in trade with the Americas and the Levant in the wake of the American Revolution and of conflicts with the French. A new interest in raw cotton cultivation, and prospects for transferring fine grades of cotton to the Caribbean prompted the expedition of Dr. Anton Hove, a Polish doctor, savant and naturalist who became one of Joseph Banks’s collectors and agents.

Banks’ letter hiring him came with confidential documents:

‘the real object of your mission is to procure for the W. Indies seeds of the finer sorts of cotton with which the Ahmood Country [in the Broach District, Gujarat State] where you are ordered to reside abounds, to make yourself master of the manner in which it is cultivated, & transmit from time to time your observations upon the soil & mode of cultivation; you are continually to keep that in view as your main object, & consider the collections for His Majesty’s garden as secondary to it.’ [Banks to Hove, 7 Jan. 1787, B.M. (N.H.) D.T.C. vol. 5, folios 124-7)

He set off for Surat on the Warren Hastings from Gravesend on the 3 April, 1787. He arrived at Bombay on the 29th of July, meeting a frosty reception from the Company in Bombay; he received no financial support, and eventually raised a loan from a Parsee merchant.

His detailed reports and diaries were no bare-boned botanical compendium. They recount the recount the trials and tribulations of the industrial traveller. Forced to take a palankeen, retainers and 17 horsemen, this was not his preferred method of collecting information. He recounted the hostility of the people in some of the districts he passed through. Seeking the Rajah’s permission, and indeed presenting him with a fine shawl, to visit Tanapoor, where the finest cotton is produced he met with frustration.

– ‘this was what I ardently wished, for as the people behave rather unruly on our first passing here I hoped that the Rajah’s association with me would have a check on them for any future insults’. – but it rained and he did not go further than the village – (notes p. 622)

By November he was camping in the Broach cotton district and conducting a detailed survey of the fine cotton and indigo plantations.

He encountered secrecy in his attempt to gather specimens and seeds:

In Serapoor, where the finest cotton grew he went to the overseer with a reward asking for a little for medical purposes: ‘accordingly after binding me to secrecy of not telling it, which was what I wishes, he gave me the quantity that is marked under No. 8 and promised me some seeds as son as the cotton in cleared off.’ (Home Miscellaneous 374, pp. 641-2)

Broach he described as a place where ‘every street swarms with different casts,- Arabs, Moguls, and the many tribes of Gentoos…Their manufacture is cloth of various kinds, as Bafta, Daria, Czarhany. Bafta is the finest of all, coming near the muslin of Bengal; Czahany and Daria are the striped muslins which the ladies wear in England. Duty comes near the Madras long cloth, and is exported to different parts of India to great advantage.’

Hove then went on to investigate spinning and weaving in Serapoor.

‘Today I sent my interpreter to enquire and find out the places at what part of the town the weavers and carders resided who gave me on his return a very unsatisfactory report – that this branch is chiefly performed by women, who cannot be seen by any other person but their own caste. I therefore desired him to bring me a machine, but in this I was likewise disappointed, and the cause has been ascribed to me for the superstition with which the women are prepossessed, that they could never spin so well if their work came to the light of a stranger. However they did not scruple selling it, of which I could have purchased in any quantity, but to part with their implements, they would not on any account.’

Hove conveyed great admiration for the skills he witnessed investigated the division of labour in the crafts, and commended the practices and customs to English manufacture:

Dr. Hove wrote

‘This country method of weaving would do very well in England, the country so much more favourable on account of its moderate climate which in this country the weavers are obliged to moderate, by artifice however; only in large manufactories where every one could mind his own Branch, which in the time of a year would become to him fine spinning and weaving as familiar as the coarse cloth is to him at present.

the weavers live here separately from the rest of the mechanics, and none of them ever interfere with his neighbour’s branch solely minding his own, and so quits it to his posterity. I am confident if the weavers in England would be persuaded of imitating this country agreement they would soon be convinced and find their mutual interest of containing in the separate branches.’

Hove described Surat during this period of the later 1780s as place of vibrant and growing trade ‘it not only pays and defrays its own great expense, but likewise furnishes Bombay with three to four lacs of rupees per year’. He found a new shipbuilding industry there, building ships from teakwood for use in private trade. The exports he noted from Surat included fine cotton, indigo, Ahmedbad carpets, silks, kinkobs, Ilachu or satin and cotton cloth. There were imports of coffee, sugar, spices, and of iron, copper and ivory.

Hove’s wonderful account of cotton cultivation and processing was duly delivered to Joseph Banks. It was said that no copy of it was ever lodged in the India Office, though much of it can be found as ‘Extracts from Dr. Hove’s Journal in Home Miscellaneous. An edited version of the Journal was finally published in 1857.

Indeed the East India Company in Bombay after his chilly reception thwarted his efforts to return home, which he only achieved by buying passage for himself and his collection on a Danish ship.

These issues of procurement and of quality of both raw cotton and cotton fabrics which lay behind these intensely detailed enquiries into local conditions of the textile manufacture were also vital in attempts to gather ‘useful knowledge’ in an emerging cotton textile industry 4,500 miles from Surat and Bombay.

The mechanisation of the British cotton textile industry was proceeding through the 1780s and 1790s drawing on lessons of quality and also those of division of labour derived from the Indian products with which they competed.

The classic textile machinery was introduced to compete with Indian skills, and the first histories of the British cotton manufacture focussed on the new yarn qualities produced by machines such as Crompton’s mule that now made it possible to compete with India.

Robert Peel and Samuel Oldknow in Lancashire and Oberkampf in Mulhouse set out to produce for London and Paris fashion markets, and to compete with Indian quality manufactures. To this end, they both attended the EIC auctions to witness the style and quality of goods coming, to watch how they sold, and to take away ideas for their own products.

They faced the fierce competition of hand-painted Indian textiles, hand-made muslins; they realized the advantage of these Indian fabrics lay in quality and price. In a highly-charged atmosphere of competition and high demand workshops then factories in Lancashire and Mulhouse now produced quality goods, rapid design change, and prices afforded by the middling then labouring classes.

The merchants prepared a history of the rise and progress of the British muslin and calico manufacture for the Lords of the Council for Trade in 1786. They claimed ‘the object they [the inventors] grasped was great indeed – to establish a Manufacture in Britain that should rival in some measure the Fabrics of Bengall’. The challenge was great ‘there are more India Goods coming into the Market than has been known of these many years in so short a time.’ (ibid).

‘in the invention of the mule may be found one of the chief causes of the transference of the seat of an industry to the Western from the Eastern world, where it had been situated from time immemorial.’

The context of Europe’s account of its own industries and technologies as a part of the wider Enlightenment project of human betterment and economic progress needs to be set alongside another context of Europe’s wider exploration and accounts of the industries, technologies and crafts of wider parts of the world.

While an export-ware sector in Asia provided Europe with its quality consumer and luxury goods, just how much curiosity was there in the resources, crafts and secret processes that made these goods?

As we have seen intense surveys of manufactures and of industrial crops were conducted by Europe’s savants and Company officials and agents; these provided an extensive ‘useful knowledge’ from which Europe learned. Among those lessons were quality and skill; even more important were predictability on quality, measurements and design and reliability on delivery dates and quantities.

The British soon developed their own export-ware sector in cotton textiles. New designs from their own machines, factories and warehouses found a seemingly endless market in North America and the West Indies as well as Europe. They produced by 1790 15 or 16 million yards of coloured piece goods, a large proportion of which went to these new markets.

Kuznet’s ‘wealth and knowledge’ provides the new challenge to global historians just as David Landes’s Wealth and Poverty of Nations did in the 1990s. Mokyr’s Enlightened Economy brings us the multicentrism of European knowledge, but it situates ‘useful knowledge’ in the West. We can ask if all the factors he includes in ‘useful knowledge’ are enough to explain why a knowledge revolution happened in the West but not the East.

If his European story of invention based in reconfiguring existing stores of knowledge and adapting the tacit knowledge transmitted through artisan skill, then this invention also drew on interchanges with Eastern objects and processes. While some industries drew their technological capacity and impetus to change from across Europe, others responded to the trade with China, Japan and India which brought objects, fine porcelain and lacquerware or high quality printed textiles. As Epstein put it, ‘Imported Chinese porcelain could prove that something thought impossible could be done’.i




i Epstein, ‘Transferring Technical Knowledge’, p. 28



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