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date: 26 September 2022

Trans-Atlantic Trade in African Captives, Enslaved Africans in the Americas, and the Industrial Revolution in Englandlocked

Trans-Atlantic Trade in African Captives, Enslaved Africans in the Americas, and the Industrial Revolution in Englandlocked

  • Joseph InikoriJoseph InikoriDepartment of History, University of Rochester


The Industrial Revolution in England has remained the most debated subject in economic history. The debate has moved in a circle—the growth of trade (the “commercial revolution”), especially overseas trade, occupied the center stage of explanations from the nineteenth century to World War II; the pendulum shifted to inward-looking explanations between 1950 and the mid-1980s; the circle was completed in the late 1980s, when overseas trade began to be the dominant causal factor, once again. There was hardly any room for the contribution of the trans-Atlantic trade in African captives and the enslavement of Africans in the Americas in inward-looking explanations. Once it was convincingly demonstrated that inward-looking explanations are not consistent with historical reality, the contribution of enslaved Africans in the Americas to the growth of the Atlantic economy and the central role of the latter in the Industrial Revolution became realistically demonstrable. However, more recently, a fascinating argument based on British high wages and cheap energy (coal) appears to bring in a variant of the inward-looking arguments of decades ago through the back door. Comparative study of the evidence from England’s counties makes it abundantly clear the counties where the Industrial Revolution occurred (Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, in particular) exploited their general poverty and initial low wages to capture the rapidly growing slave-based Atlantic economy (initially secured by British naval power and protected with mercantilist policies) at the expense of the erstwhile more developed southern counties, whose initial high wages may have worked against them. Cheap energy was not important in the eighteenth-century developments in the leading counties; its importance was to help sustain continuing growth in the nineteenth century.


  • Slavery and Slave Trade

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