For Teachers: Teachers' Guide

Rethinking the Industrial Revolution

* This section of the website corresponds to the 1450-1750 and 1750-1914 units of Advanced Placement World History.


Pomeranz and Wong begin the third section by arguing the importance of identifying the economic similarities between parts of China and parts of Europe between 1500 and 1800. They identify two distinct historical developments:

  1. the ability of preindustrial societies to maximize their productive potential within the fundamental constraints of the world and
  2. the ability of industrial societies to use steam and fossil fuels to move beyond the traditional constraints.

These developments are distinct, and there is no explicit causal connection linking the transition from the former to the latter. Pomeranz argues that this transition did not occur until 1800.

Wong then raises questions about the traditional sequence of economic developments leading up to Europe’s Industrial Revolution. He notes the challenge of identifying useful geographical units for analyzing economic changes. Given the relatively recent beginning of the Industrial Revolution, suggests new questions about the causes and about European maritime exploration in the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

Key Terms/Vocabulary

fundamental constraints
productive potential

Study Questions

  1. What are the main features associated with preindustrial societies and with industrial societies?
  2. Why is 1800 seen as an important historical hinge in economic history?
  3. How do the economic parallels between Europe and China in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries affect our understanding of subsequent economic development both in Europe and around the world?
  4. Why are regions a useful unit of analysis?
  5. How does pushing back the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to 1800 affect our interpretation of Europe’s maritime exploration of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries?

Discussion Questions

  1. If the transition from a preindustrial society to an industrial society first occurred only 200 years ago, what does it suggest about the future of the global economy?