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The Industrial Revolution SOW

Students and staff alike groan when you mention the Industrial Revolution. It brings up thoughts of having to teach crop rotation cycles and the Corn Laws. It lacks the romance of the medieval and Early Modern periods and lacks the mechanized rush of tank battles and nuclear explosions that is Twentieth Century. It occupies a middle ground, the transition period. It can be tough to teach.

This is odd. Odd because it is almost certainly the most important transformation humankind has ever witnessed. Certainly since the Agricultural Revolution approximately 12,000 years ago. It is a process that is still transforming us today, as waterwheels make way for WiFi and the factories of Birmingham are relocated to Bangladesh, it is having a profound impact.

Understanding the forces of ‘creative destruction’ that it unleashed and the impact this had on society is as essential to understanding today’s political and economic climate as it was two hundred years ago. The parallels between the 19th century and the 21st are quite remarkable. The unrest caused by the transition from agricultural economy to an industrial economy are not too dissimilar to the unrest now seen in the West as we struggle to go from industrial to post-industrial. Out of work weavers smashing up the machines of production are not a million miles away from Janesville’s unemployed car workers blaming competition from abroad (arguable the Luddites had identified a more effective target – perhaps Trump voters would be better off smashing up microprocessor factories or ambushing software engineers on their way to work than blaming cheap migrant labour for their woes).

So it is vital. It is an incredibly rich and exciting topic if you approach it the right way. Starting with London’s explosive Olympic opening ceremony this Scheme of Work is remarkably good at engaging students with the personal struggles of those that lived during this time while also explaining the bigger economic forces at work. It also goes out of its way to develop a range of source, exam and soft skills with a variety of different activities and approaches.

This SOW has been very successful with Year 8 for the last four years at an outstanding department in an outstanding school in the UK.

- Just don't forget to mention my favourite Industrial Revolution anecdote - the unfortunate Mayor of Liverpool who got run over by Stephenson's Rocket on its maiden voyage. He'd never seen anything that could move so fast and misjudged his exit from the track. Ouch.

Hope it helps.

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