How did the First Industrial Revolution Change Work Conditions in Producing Textile Goods? Providing Students Opportunities to Make Thoughtful Comparisons By Evaluating Images

This article is the sixteenth of an ongoing series from EuroClio providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series here.

This activity allows students not only the ability to grapple with a significant part of the early Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom in the 18th century, but also to assess how to look at the role of technology in societal changes. While the Industrial Revolution that originated in Great Britain directly affected life in Manchester, England, where more and more textile goods were produced in the newly constructed factories, it also dramatically affected other aspects of work in the production of cotton, whether in the fields in plantations in the Americas or in countless homes in Great Britain where cotton goods had traditionally been made. In so doing it led to vast changes economically, socially, demographically, and environmentally. In this eLearning Activity students can analyze what it meant for participants. Key Questions are “In what ways did industrialization change how most people worked? Were these changes more positive than negative? Explain.”

Given the significance of the use of technology and the related decisions made by the new group of entrepreneurs who wanted to make as much money as possible in all aspects of cotton production, the source collection focuses on helping students understand these changes from participants’ perspectives and look at positive, negative, and neutral consequences of these significant changes.

The accompanying eLearning Activity which can be easily adapted to your class needs, gives students the opportunity to develop skills in evaluating historical evidence and issues of change over time to do the work of historians. This activity asks students to look closely at some of the materials on Historiana’s source collection about People At Work: Changes Due to the Industrial Revolution.

This activity can be easily edited and adapted to suit your classroom context or even applied to a different historical period by building your own online task in Historiana’s eLearning Activity Builder . Indeed it makes sense to consider this work as homework and in class students share their opinions with a partner, Then they can share their opinions with the entire class to evaluate the merits of their ideas and work collaboratively to defend their responses.

Such work allows students to think and work like historians, as is emphasized in the History Thinking Project:

Why are such themes important? Students are inundated with information about the past and the present in the guise of objectivity and yet when one looks more closely it is apparent that that is less the case and that frequent ways of thinking are influenced by the false assumption that newer is better than older and that technological adaptations bring progress. But progress needs to be evaluated in the more nuanced and historically balanced ways. What is intrinsically better with factory work that led to speed-ups and efficiency than working at one’s own pace? Why should machines guide how quickly one works? And where one works? Any of these questions could
lead to a productive Socratic Seminar discussion or a class debate. Given the current discussions about “Home Office” these questions are clearly quite current ones.


Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyondand the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.

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