New Thoughts on Industrialisation – the OUP Handbook of Industrial Archaeology 2022

April 2022 saw the launch of the Oxford University Handbook of Industrial Archaeology, edited by myself and my fellow industrial archaeologists Prof Eleanor Casella and Hanna Steyn. This was the culmination, officially, of a ten-year process, begun in 2012 and whose completion was delayed two years by the COVID pandemic. It represents the first substantial international text on Industrial Archaeology and comes at a time when the global impact of industrialisation is being re-assessed in terms of its legacy of climate change, mechanisation, urbanisation, and labour relations

Industrial Archaeology emerged in Britain, North America, and Australasia in the mid-20th century, expanding its geographic and thematic scope into the early 21st century. It traditionally has examined human technological inventions and innovations since 1500 AD. Yet, with its emphasis on the physical remains of the human past – from pots and knives to buildings and landscapes – archaeology is uniquely placed to provide both a broad and a detailed understanding of how the processes of industrialisation emerged and evolved. Thus, during the first two decades of the 21st century, the traditional focus of industrial archaeology on extractive, manufacturing, and transport industries has expanded into an exploration of industrialised societies, thereby encompassing the broader social impacts of these new technologies on historic communities and their built environment. The new edited volume captures this more rounded approach to the process, balancing, I hope, the impact of industrialisation in the terms of technology, landscape, and society.

The germ of the idea was sown at the Crossing Paths or Sharing Tracks? Future Directions in the Study of Post-1550 Britain and Ireland conference, held at Leicester University in April 2008 by the Association for Industrial Archaeology, the Irish Post-Medieval Archaeology Group, and the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology. The papers from this conference were published as a collection of 27 edited essays with enviable speed in 2009. Ideas for the international OUP IA Handbook crystalized during the experience of running a series of industrial archaeology training workshops organised jointly by the Association for Industrial Archaeology and the Council for British Archaeology, between 2008 and 2011. This led to its own book, the Council for British Archaeology’s Industrial Archaeology: A Handbook, published in 2012, which focussed on the British evidence for industrialisation. This left myself and Eleanor with a strong impression that there remained a need for an international perspective to complement these two earlier works, especially as industrialisation in the early 21st century was in full swing in parts of South America, China, and India.

Multi-author edited archaeology volumes, with dozens of chapters and contributors, are notorious for taking time to organise, write, and edit, especially if there is not a focal conference to use as a springboard, as was the case with this book project. With letters sent out to potential contributors in 2012-13 and the drafts text arriving between 2014 and 2018, this was always going to be a lengthy process requiring stamina and patience. We made the decision not to publish the chapters individually online, as the editorial process was completed for each, since we felt that the volume would have a greater impact when all 43 chapters could be viewed together and linkages made between regions and industries. Six years seemed long enough to bring together 43 chapters by 38 authors from around the globe to talk about industrialisation, who remained very patient. Despite both Eleanor and myself changing jobs within 12 months of each other, the editing process was firmly kept on track by Hannah, and was completed by the end of 2019. All was set fare for a publication date sometime in 2020, and then the global COVID pandemic hit in early 2020 and work and home life ground to halt.

Despite the prolonged COVID shut down, the need for an international industrial archaeology volume remained, as increasingly industrial archaeology excavations and survey work expanded around the globe. In the autumn of 2021 the production process finally began, with time for a few last-minutes edits and corrections. The new volume as published online and in print in 2022 captures the widening approaches used by archaeologists to record and understand the process of industrialisation through its physical remains during the 2010s. I couldn’t face bringing together such a complex volume again, having been involved as co-editor in two such mammoth projects. However, as the initial research on industrial archaeology manufacturing sites in China, India, and South America begins to be published it will be fascinating to see what an even wider global experience of the industrialisation process looks like for the archaeologists of the 2030s.


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