Europe 1800-1850

There were dramatic political, social and economic changes that occurred in continental Europe in the first half of the 19th century. Almost every European aspect that is present today had its beginnings in this period. The most notable feature in this period was the rapid expansion and development of industry. The years before this period were marked with a series of civil and international wars that took a huge toll on the European countries. Therefore, this was a period of social construction, and a small event impacted heavily on the society. For example, an outbreak of disease swept many people over a short period of time, which in turn affected agriculture and industry. Additionally, since most European economies were generally agriculture based, any natural catastrophe affecting the weather, environment or the climate was bound to impact heavily on the economy. The years between 1800 and 1850 saw the demographics of Europe fluctuate drastically over time (Gildea 1). At first, there was high birth rate and low death rate in many European countries (Gildea 1). However, this trend reversed after the onset of constant outbreaks of small pox and other contagious diseases. Agrarian and industrial revolutions were also vital in the determination of population patterns. The industrial revolution happening in many European countries led to an expansion of local and international markets. Additionally, industrialization led to the rise of social classes, where landowners and industrialists became the bourgeois while the serfs and peasants were converted to poor proletariats. The major challenge to industrialization was inadequacy of capital, but academia provided a valuable alternative for capital generation.  Therefore, the rise of capitalism in European countries in the first half of the 19th century was contributed partially by the internal imbalance in influence over resources and partially by external demand for manufactured goods as discussed below.

Land Reallocation and Development of Land Enclosures

In many parts of Europe, land ownership was communal. Farmers worked on small and fragmented pieces of land and produced crops for sustenance only (Gildea 2). In rare occasions was there surplus food in the community. However, this ownership gradually changed as land policies were redrafted in many countries. Land that belonged to the community was sold in the market, where only the rich could afford. The rich land merchants then enclosed their newly acquired land and practiced more sophisticated farming methods. For example, farmers adopted new breeding techniques that ensured that the only animals that were produced met certain criteria that made them fit for industrial scale production (Gildea 13). In the long run, there arose social classes that were defined by how much land one owned, and subsequently by how much they produced. In Britain for example, serfdom gained ground as the new land management scheme (Gildea 15). Land owners and rich industrialists leased land to serfs for a land rate. The landowners dictated entirely over the cultivation of land. Therefore, capitalism took effect after the initial land policies were changed, while independent peasant farmers lost their land ownership rights and became serfs on that land.

Discrimination in the Enrollment of Students to Universities

The problem of capital for industrial development menaced the early 19th century Europe for a long time. There were few commercial banks that offered loans to industrialists. The only loans offered by the banks across Europe were mortgages, arguably because they buffered the banks against loan repayment uncertainties. Swiss bank was the only financial institution that gave unsecured loans for industrialists (Gildea 22). Consequent to this shortage of investment capital, academia became the only alternative to acquisition of capital for investment. However, the only institutions of higher learning in Europe, Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, enrolled student from affluent families. The universities mainly offered law, medical and clerical courses. The doctors, lawyers and clergy who graduated from colleges used the gains from education to boost their peers and families, meaning that only a few people were able to develop their industries, while the majority of people continued to languish in poverty (Gildea 27). The former thus occupied the high class while the latter became poor industrial workers.

Expansion of foreign market and subsequent abolition of craftsmen guilds

Industrial production was originally reserved for craftsmen who produced goods in relatively low quantities. The goods thus produced were only sufficient for the local market. These craftsmen formed the craftsmen guilds that acted as trade unions for small scale industrial manufacturers (Gildea 18). It did not take much for one to be a craftsman. Ownership of simple machines like the textile machine and a few stem driven engines was enough to produce goods for a small market. Therefore, craft ensured that there was relative equality in industrial ownership and production. As the market for finished goods expanded, there arose a need to expand production to meet the demand of a bigger market. Europe needed to supply goods for its oversees colonies while meeting the needs for European countries with low production. Consequently, the craftsmen guilds were abolished as entrepreneurs emerged to take over industrial production (Gildea 19). The industrial moguls thus dominated the production and the market, and hence occupied the highest social ladders.

Cheap labor from rural immigrants that fuelled rampant industrialization

The 19th century Europe saw rampant rural-urban migration. However, this trend only emerged in the second quarter of the century. Before 1900 and shortly after, people were confined in villages where they practiced communal farming. Food production was for subsistence, and thus every family worked on their own farms. There was no employment in the farms, and people occupied similar positions in the society. As the economy shifted from agriculture based to industrial based, this social organization was disrupted. The lands that were initially fragmented were reformed and sold in the market. The ones who could not afford buying the land were rendered serfs and peasants who toiled to get their daily bread (Gildea 15). The increasing poverty in the villages prompted people to seek employment in the growing industries in the urban centers. Due to the high supply of labor and low demand for it, industrial workers were poorly paid, and subsequently led miserable lives in the town centers. Gradually, a very low class of people who worked for the rich emerged in the society. In the long run, industrial owners became very rich due to huge profit margins generated by high output of goods and low input of labor and raw materials.


Industrial revolution in Europe came with myriad social and economic effects. Rural to urban migration was the most significant short-run socio-economic impact of the industrial development in Europe. One of the major long-term effects of industrial revolution was the emergence of capitalism. The factors that contributed to this emergence of capitalism were inequality in land ownership, massive production of industrial goods, control over international and local markets for finished goods and inequality in access to and acquisition of higher education.

Work Cited

Gildea, Robert. Barricades and borders: Europe 1800-1914. OUP Oxford, 2003.