- Mothers of Innovation: How Expanding Social Networks Gave Birth to the Industrial Revolution by Leonard Dudley
Why did the Industrial Revolution begin in eighteenth-century England? Which factors or policies promote societal innovation? In Mothers of Innovation, Dudley unravels these far-reaching questions in a fittingly bold and interdisciplinary manner, reminiscent of ambitious works such as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (New York, 1997), David Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (New York, 1998), and Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson’s The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (New York, 2012). His conclusions emphasize the connection between innovation, collaboration, and social networks, with both historical and present-day implications. Dudley’s means are as important as his ends; he offers readers a confident, compelling illustration of the value of multidisciplinary analysis.
Dudley’s argument builds upon a thorough review of existing scholarship. Prior attempts to explain the timing of the Industrial Revolution typically placed emphasis on one of two factors—institutions and [End Page 385] ideas that increased the supply of key innovations (for example, judicial systems that protect private property or the British Enlightenment’s emphasis upon useful knowledge); or conditions that increased the demand for innovations (for example, abundant coal and scarce labor that encouraged labor-saving inventions). Dudley acknowledges that both sets of factors are relevant, but even taken together, supply and demand arguments for innovaton do not fully explain the Industrial Revolution’s genesis and evolution.
Mothers of Innovation forges a new path, connecting innovation to the collaboration of multiple practitioners—primarily inventors but also managers, investors, and entrepreneurs—willing and able to bring multiple perspectives to bear on complex challenges. This form of collaboration depends upon mutual trust, the ability to communicate effectively, and access to necessary knowledge and experience. Dudley’s model predicts the onset of innovation and industrialization by seeking societal precursors of successful collaboration, such as large populations that share a common language, high literacy rates, and open societies that tolerate diversity.
Dudley’s emphasis upon collaboration and communication offers rewards to readers from all disciplinary backgrounds. He sheds light on a critical-historical question but also suggests policies to promote modern-day technology transfer, collaboration, and innovation. Even better, in the course of proving his thesis, he creates a versatile historical data set, a list of 117 major technological innovations during the decisive time period from 1700 to 1850. He categorizes these innovations into individual versus collaborative efforts and highlights “super” technologies that represent both radical technical ideas and the ability to fulfill a variety of applications. This data set, which can fuel a range of history or economics research projects, cries out for expansion into other time periods. Dudley also introduces and blends concepts drawn from disciplines such as cultural history, the history of technology, economics, psychology, linguistics, and policy studies. By the end of the study, readers have experienced both the theory and application of multiple analytical frameworks, including recombinant growth models, distributed network theory, the concept of conceptual blending, game theory, and many others.
Dudley practices what he preaches. His final product qualifies as an innovation because of its creative integration of theory and content from different perspectives. Moreover, in the true spirit of “super” technologies, Mothers of Innovation offers the world both an insightful new idea as well as its ensuing practical applications. [End Page 386]