Networks of Improvement: Literature, Bodies, and Machines in the Industrial Revolution

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A new literary-cultural history of the Industrial Revolution in Britain from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries.

Working against the stubbornly persistent image of “dark satanic mills,” in many ways so characteristic of literary Romanticism, Jon Mee provides a fresh, revisionary account of the Industrial Revolution as a story of unintended consequences. In Networks of Improvement, Mee reads a wide range of texts—economic, medical, and more conventionally “literary”—with a focus on their circulation through networks and institutions. Mee shows how a project of enlightened liberal reform articulated in Britain’s emerging manufacturing towns led to unexpectedly coercive forms of machine productivity, a pattern that might be seen repeating in the digital technologies of our own time. Instead of treating the Industrial Revolution as Romanticism’s “other,” Mee shows how writing, practices, and institutions emanating from these industrial towns developed a new kind of knowledge economy, one where local literary and philosophical societies served as important transmission hubs for the circulation of knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
Number of pages288
ISBN (Electronic)9780226828398
ISBN (Print)9780226828381
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Nominated for the MLA's James Russell Lowell Prize

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