RHI Seminar: Indian cotton textiles and the evolution of spinningtechnology in the British cotton industry during the eighteenth century

Our speaker for this month's seminar is Dr. Alka Raman from London School of Economics and Political Science. Dr. Raman will be presenting her paper titled: Indian cotton textiles and the evolution of spinning technology in the British cotton industry during the eighteenth century. The seminar will take place in room B0077 in the Leeuwenborch. Hope to see you there!

Organised by Economic and Environmental History

Tue 6 September 2022 11:15 to 12:30

Venue Leeuwenborch, building number 201
Room B0077


Mainstream perspectives on industrialisation in the British cotton industry view technological change in spinning as motivated largely by the pursuit of productivity gains, facilitated by the fortuitous availability of high-quality, long-staple cotton. However, recent studies on the evolution of British cotton manufacturing have shown that the quality of British cotton textiles advanced to converge with Indian quality in the 18th and 19th centuries, suggesting the hypothesis that spinning machinery evolved to produce improved quality of yarn. Did the pursuit to match the quality of Indian cotton textiles necessitate the ‘wave of innovations’ in spinning in Britain? Surveying the working mechanisms of spinning machinery, this paper demonstrates that improving the quality of spun yarn was a key motivation for the evolution of spinning machinery. It shows that the three main spinning machines were fundamentally path dependent, and materially, fine mechanised spinning on the mule in Britain was based on the jersey wheel technology of Indian origin. Situating the skill to use a technology optimally at the centre of any technological paradigm, the paper demonstrates that a combination of the staple and the skill of the spinner related to a specific technique determined final cloth quality, not the staple of the cotton in isolation.