Why Did We Choose to Industrialize?: Montreal, 1819-1849

Why Did We Choose to Industrialize?: Montreal, 1819-1849

by Robert C.H. Sweeny


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The choice to industrialize has changed the world more than any other decision in human history. And yet the three prevailing explanations - the technical (new energy sources), the Marxist (new social relations), and the neo-liberal (people became more industrious) - are inadequate in making sense of this fundamental change. In mid-nineteenth-century Montreal, as in other early industrializing societies, change occurred as a result of the choices people made when faced with unprecedented opportunities and constraints. Montreal was the first colonial city to industrialize. Its overlapping French and English legal traditions mean that people's actions were exceptionally well documented for a North American city. Robert Sweeny?s novel reading of sources like city directories, ordinance surveys, monetary protests, and apprenticeship contracts leads him to develop important critiques of both mainstream and progressive historiography. He shows how the choice to industrialize was tied to the development of completely new ways of thinking about the world on three inter-related levels: how should we relate to each other, to property, and to nature? In Montreal, as in all the other early industrializing societies, thought preceded action. Sweeny illuminates the personal and familial decisions that tens of thousands of people made by the mid-nineteenth century which already prefigured much of what industrialized Montreal would look like in 1880. At a moment when global conflict is tied to resources and climate change, Sweeny shows how fundamental decision making can determine widespread social change. Informed by four decades of scholarship, Why Did We Choose to Industrialize? Is a politically engaged argument about history, a sustained reflection on sources and method in historical practice, and a singular vantage point on the ideas that have shaped historical understandings of industrialization.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780773545380
Publisher: McGill-Queens University Press
Publication date: 06/01/2015
Series: Studies on the History of Quebec Series , #28
Pages: 456
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Robert C.H. Sweeny is professor of history at Memorial University.

Table of Contents

Figures and Tables xi

Acknowledgments xv

Abbreviations xix

Introduction 3

Chapter 1 Points of Departure 16

Chapter 2 Colonial States 32

Chapter 3 Internal Dynamics 52

Chapter 4 Cuvier's Feather 87

Chapter 5 Agency and Constraint 112

Chapter 6 "G'est un travail dont je n'avais pas d'idée!" 143

Chapter 7 Towards a Cubist Portrait 181

Chapter 8 Imaginary Lines 225

Chapter 9 An Industrial City 279

Conclusion 311

Notes 337

Bibliography 377

Index 425

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