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The Industrial Revolution

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Anna Challand Anna Challand | 08:00 UK time, Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Great pictures to help with history lessons

As a historian and teacher, I am constantly looking for images and documents to help pupils piece together their own picture of the past. Most periods of history are not saturated with photographic images, so it is difficult to find visual stimulus that will inspire and create a sense of people and places in bygone eras, as well as provoke discussion about interpretations. Fortunately this site contains a wealth of material that can be used to teach both secondary and primary history.  

The Industrial Revolution

Understanding the causes of the Industrial Revolution helps place the economic, political and social development of British and Commonwealth society throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in a wider historical context. This should help pupils develop a greater sense of change and continuity, and make links from the past to contemporary social, political and economic themes.

The series of paintings I’ve chosen here helps illustrate the causes and consequences of the Industrial Revolution.

This typical 18th century rural image is a good starting point.

Ask the class to record a list of words that sum up the impression of life in the countryside given by this painting.  Then pupils could be directed to look at the way fields are divided in order to discuss the impact of enclosure and how it helped industrial entrepreneurs.

The next five paintings indicate how the textile industry changed from the domestic system to the factory.

1. An idyllic image of a country girl sewing at home.

2. A rich woman doing intricate needlepoint.

3. A weaver at a loom, in a domestic setting.

4. A 'weaving shop', showing workers in a factory.

5. The impressive Ebley Cloth Mill at Stroud, one of thousands of cloth mills that were built across the country.

This painting of Richard Arkwright Junior sums up the social mobility of the period. (Arkwright Junior was the son of Sir Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the Spinning Jenny).

How did he gain his wealth, and why did he have this painting done? You can split the class into pairs to discuss how rich they think he was by looking at the clothes. It’s also interesting to look at where the family is standing, and the skill of the painter. Then you can talk about how Arkwright continued the changes to the textile industry, begun by his father.

Discuss why entrepreneurs such as the Arkwrights were essential to making England an industrial and wealthy country.  Ask the class to imagine what Arkwright Junior would say to Alan Sugar about why he should invest in his business and make him his apprentice.  The class could present this as a series of statements made in the boardroom in response to the question from Lord Sugar ‘Why should I not fire you?’

The next two paintings show the changing landscapes caused by industrial development.

Pupils can play Spot the Difference between the painting of Dixton Manor and the 20th-Century image of industrial development. They can then think about why industrial development had occurred, and what may have been needed to help this development, such as transport links.  You can then ask the class to imagine the valley before development, and in groups produce a report for the planning committee of the local council to explain why this site is excellent for industrial development.

One of my favourite artists is LS Lowry. This Lowry painting of Ashton-under-Lyne encapsulates the changes of the industrial revolution perfectly.

Use this image to look at the provision of back-to-back housing and discuss the development of the industrial working class, coupled with the advantages and disadvantages of industrial development.  Analyse the importance of this painting as a source about the horrors of the industrial revolution when compared with other material.

In this picture by William Blake, Satan’s legions could be interpreted as some members of the industrial working class.  

The impact of the Industrial Revolution on Blake's imagination can be seen in poems he wrote, such as London, and Jerusalem. You could read Jerusalem to the class, and discuss why the phrase 'dark satanic mills' may have been a reference to industrial development. The class could write their own version of a poem or a tourist postcard to describe the industrial landscape.

Once all the paintings have been studied they can be printed and arranged in a collage to illustrate the causes and consequences of the Industrial Revolution.

There are many other beautiful images on the site to inspire teachers. If you find any that are useful for teaching the topic of the Industrial Revolution, please do share them in the comments section below.

(Copyright information:
Industrial Landscape © the artist's estate/Bridgeman Art Library
Industrial Landscape, Ashton-under-Lyne © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2011)



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