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The cotton industry is fundamental to the development of global capitalism and broadly shaped the world we live in today. It is therefore important to realise the extent to which this depended on the militarisation of trade, massive land expropriation, genocide and slavery.
If we survey the historical profession at the moment, there are plenty of academic squabbles going on, but the great debates that once divided historians seem to be in short supply. Time was when contests over the standard of living during the industrial revolution or about post-modernism and its application to the study of history would drive scholars into a frenzy of position taking.
During the past two decades, Robert Allen’s researches into English agriculture have fundamentally reshaped our understanding of the nature and pace of rising agricultural productivity between the late middle ages and the 19th century.
Breakfasting in bed, Maynard Keynes recalled the immense scope of the laissez-faire world of the Pax Britannica at its zenith in the summer of 1914. ‘The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his tea … the various products of the whole earth, in such quantities as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery at his doorstep; he could ...