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A Distinctive Industrialization: Cotton in Barcelona, 1728-1832.

In this clear and well-documented work, Professor Thomson takes as his starting point Pierre Vilar's magisterial La Catalogne dans L'Espagne Moderne (1962). He builds on this heritage by following the transformations of the Catalan cotton industry from Early Modern commerce through the critical pre-industrial decades amidst shifting policies of the Spanish state which underpinned the 19th-century industrial triumph of Barcelona and Catalonia. Thomson combines painstaking attention to archival data with strong collegial recognition of the excellent work which has advanced Catalan historiography about this period. The result is a clear and detailed presentation of a critical century, which engages ongoing area studies while raising more general theoretical questions about comparative European industrialization for which he laid the foundations in his Clermont-de-Lodeve, 1633-1789 (1982).

The book's chapters introduce Catalonia to the non-specialist before pursuing an exhaustive chronicle of industrial organization, technology, and socio-political changes, decade by decade. Thus, detailed study begins with the establishment of calico printing in Barcelona, where Thomson situates early entrepreneurs within the context of markets and imports as well as the Spanish (and comparative) political framework of industrial growth in the early 18th century. This leads to more direct considerations of the rationale behind the movement and impact of mercantile capital in burgeoning industrialization as well as contested questions of the importance of American colonial markets. Thomson maintains a balance between the characteristics of individual founders and the ongoing transformation of their industrial milieux--labor, government, technology, and markets--through the height of this first industrial boom in the 1780s. He skillfully draws together the successes and failures of individual firms and figures in order to present a nuanced yet comprehensive vision. He also stands back from time to time to ask more generally about patterns of growth as well as Catalonia's position within wider European changes.

Thomson interrupts this flow in his seventh chapter to explore the history of spinning, which developed extensively only in the 1780s, although it was soon put in a decisive position by a ban on imported yarn in 1802. This provides a kind of counterpoint--technological, organizational and political--to his examination of weaving and printing industries, as well as a bridge to a final examination of the crisis of the factory between 1787 and 1832. While he moves more rapidly in contrasting 1790 and 1823 as industrial conjunctures, he nonetheless teases out local, national and international forces that led to dramatic changes in the nature and future of Catalan growth.

The book ends with a return to a carefully developed specific case--the Bonaplata mill--which is taken to summarize the major themes of the book. Unfortunately, this produces a rather rapid and, on the whole, less than clearly developed conclusion which does not do justice to the careful craftsmanship of the previous chapters or major themes such as pre-industrial foundations and the relation of entrepreneurial and rentier capital.

Other points of criticism might also be raised about the narrow focus of the work. While social and political forces are shown to interlock with industrial organization, Thompson avoids critical questions of cultural transformation--whether in urban values form or interactions--of the kind whose importance James S. Amelang has so clearly underscored in Honored Citizens of Barcelona. In some cases, these lacunae obscure more central features of economic transformation--e.g. the changing values associated with land and titles, or the importance of women and family in the organization of trade as well as the reproduction of capital. Scholars from Vilar and Vicens Vives onward have shown how questions of language, of urban models and urban form and ceremony have been not epiphenomena but central issues in defining the "Catalan-ness" of this industrialization. Avoidance of these considerations detaches Thomson's excellent reconstruction of industrialization per se from the life of the city and polity with which it was so intimately associated.

Nonetheless, Thomson has done many readers a service by both his own rich analytic work and his bridge from vital worlds of contemporary Catalan scholarship to an English-speaking audience. He has placed Catalonia's distinctive industrialization at the center of studies of the economic, political, social and cultural roots of a "New Europe" whose complex heritage we continue to grapple with today.

Gary W. McDonogh Bryn Mawr College
COPYRIGHT 1994 Journal of Social History
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McDonogh, Gary W.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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