Arnold Toynbee’s lectures on the Industrial Revolution (published in 1884) were the first—and the most influential—attempt to historicize Britain’s radical transition to a machine-based economy. This article locates the lectures in the context of the increasing disciplinary specialization of late-nineteenth-century Britain. Toynbee’s intellectual character and political commitments shaped an approach to the machinery question which was holist and thus placed him at odds with emerging specialists in history and economics. Despite various shortcomings, the lectures suggest the generative potential of the machinery question for an integrated economic and historical science, at which Toynbee’s unfinished work only hinted.