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Trade and overcoming land constraints in the British Industrial Revolution: the role of coal and cotton revisited


  • Dimitrios Theodoridis

    (Gothenburg University)

  • Paul Warde

    (University of Cambridge)

  • Astrid Kander

    (Lund University)


"Land was an unambiguous constraint for growth in the preindustrial period. It was overcome through the transition from traditional land-based goods to coal, a punctiform energy resource. Pomeranz (2000) suggested that the British industrial revolution was also spurred by having access to overseas land, primarily from colonies. In this regard he claimed that cotton imports were quantitatively more important than coal in liberating Britain from its land constraint in its early industrialization. This paper takes this argument and analysis one step further by investigating not only the imports to Britain but also its exports of all significant land-using or –substituting products. This gives an entirely different picture of Britain’s role as a nexus of international exchange. Apart from in the early 19th century, when potash constituted a major land-demanding import, Britain was a net-exporter of land embodied in traded commodities. In other words, the core was not simply appropriating flows of land and resources from abroad but it provided trading partners with at least as many, if not more, land-expanding resources."

Suggested Citation

  • Dimitrios Theodoridis & Paul Warde & Astrid Kander, 2016. "Trade and overcoming land constraints in the British Industrial Revolution: the role of coal and cotton revisited," Working Papers 16027, Economic History Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehs:wpaper:16027

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Schandl, Heinz & Schulz, Niels, 2002. "Changes in the United Kingdom's natural relations in terms of society's metabolism and land-use from 1850 to the present day," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 203-221, May.
    2. Astrid Kander & Paolo Malanima & Paul Warde, 2015. "Power to the People: Energy in Europe over the Last Five Centuries," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 10138-2, March.
    3. Paul Sharp, 2008. "The long American grain invasion of Britain: market integration and the wheat trade between North America and Britain from the eighteenth century," Working Papers 8001, Economic History Society.
    4. Wrigley,E. A., 2010. "Energy and the English Industrial Revolution," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521766937, September.
    5. Paolo Malanima, 2016. "Energy consumption in England and Italy, 1560–1913. Two pathways toward energy transition," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 69(1), pages 78-103, February.
    6. O'Rourke, Kevin H., 1997. "The European Grain Invasion, 1870–1913," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 57(04), pages 775-801, December.
    7. Wrigley,E. A., 2010. "Energy and the English Industrial Revolution," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521131858, September.
    8. Hornborg, Alf, 2006. "Footprints in the cotton fields: The Industrial Revolution as time-space appropriation and environmental load displacement," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(1), pages 74-81, August.
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    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General


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