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Identifying the woes of the cotton textile industry in Bengal: tales of the nineteenth century

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  • INDRAJIT RAY

Abstract

This article seeks to answer three basic questions about the nineteenth‐century cotton textile industry in Bengal that still remain unresolved in the literature; namely, when did the industry begin to decay, what was the extent of its decay during the early nineteenth century, and what were the factors that led to this? In the absence of data on production, this article seeks to settle the debate on the basis of the industry's market performance and its consumption of raw materials. It contests the prevailing hypothesis that the industry's perpetual decline started in the late eighteenth or the early nineteenth century. Instead, it is argued that the decline started around the mid‐1820s. The pace of its decline was, however, slow though steady at the beginning, but reached crisis point by 1860, when around 563,000 workers lost their jobs. Regarding the extent of its decay, this article concludes that the industry was diminished by about 28 per cent by the mid‐1800s. However, it survived in the high‐end and low‐end domestic markets. Evidence is also gathered in favour of the hypothesis that, although British discriminatory policies undoubtedly depressed the industry's export outlet, its decay is better explained by technological innovations in Great Britain.

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  • Indrajit Ray, 2009. "Identifying the woes of the cotton textile industry in Bengal: tales of the nineteenth century," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 62(4), pages 857-892, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ehsrev:v:62:y:2009:i:4:p:857-892
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2009.00444.x
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    File URL: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0289.2009.00444.x
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    1. Griffiths, Trevor & Hunt, Philip A. & O'Brien, Patrick K., 1992. "Inventive Activity in the British Textile Industry, 1700–1800," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(4), pages 881-906, December.
    2. Esteban, Javier Cuenca, 1997. "The Rising Share of British Industrial Exports in Industrial Output, 1700–1851," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 57(4), pages 879-906, December.
    3. Javier Cuenca Esteban, 1994. "British textile prices, 1770-1831: are British growth rates worth revising once again?," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 47(1), pages 66-105, February.
    4. C. Knick Harley, 1998. "Cotton Textile Prices and the Industrial Revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 51(1), pages 49-83, February.
    5. Charles Wilson, 1960. "Cloth Production And International Competition In The Seventeenth Century," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 13(2), pages 209-221, December.
    6. Javier Cuenca Esteban, 1995. "Further evidence of falling prices of cotton cloth, 1768-1816," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 48(1), pages 145-150, February.
    7. Indrajit Ray, 2001. "Imperial policy and the decline of the Bengal salt industry under colonial rule: An episode in the 'de-industrialisation' process," The Indian Economic & Social History Review, , vol. 38(2), pages 181-205, June.
    8. Brown, John C., 1990. "The Condition of England and the Standard of Living: Cotton Textiles in the Northwest, 1806–1850," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(3), pages 591-614, September.
    9. Asher, Ephraim, 1972. "Industrial Efficiency and Biased Technical Change in American and British Manufacturing: The Case of Textiles in the Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(2), pages 431-442, June.
    10. Sandberg, Lars G., 1968. "Movements in the Quality of British Cotton Textile Exports, 1815–1913," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 28(1), pages 1-27, March.
    11. Indrajit Ray, 2004. "The indigo dye industry in colonial Bengal: A re-examination," The Indian Economic & Social History Review, , vol. 41(2), pages 199-224, April.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The Calico Acts: Was British cotton made possible by infant industry protection from Indian competition?
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2017-01-05 11:01:14
    2. Tariff Protection of British cotton 1774-1820s
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2016-12-19 06:01:20

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    Cited by:

    1. Gupta, Bishnupriya, 2018. "Falling Behind and Catching up : India’s Transition from a Colonial Economy," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1147, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    2. Tirthankar Roy, 2012. "Consumption Of Cotton Cloth In India, 1795–1940," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 52(1), pages 61-84, March.

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