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The Age of Improvement, 1783-1867 (Silver Library) [Paperback]

Asa Briggs

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Book Description

21 Oct 1999 0582369592 978-0582369597 2
The Age of Improvement has long established itself as a classic of modern historical writing. Widely read and quoted it has had a unique influence on teaching and research.  This second edition draws on the great volume of new research - produced by Lord Briggs amongst others, since its original publication. The book stresses both the underlying unity and the rich variety of the age, and raises fundamental issues about a period of crucial change in British history - industrialisation, war, constitutional change and the attitudes of politicians towards it, political development, and, not least, society and culture.  In the background are the new economic powers based on the development of a coal and iron technology; in the foreground, new social and political problems and new ways of tackling them. The author also discusses perceptions of, and reactions to, changing circumstances, the influence of religion and science on national life, and changing styles in art and literature. The story ends, not with a full stop but with a question mark. Could improvement be maintained? Could balance and progress continue to be reconciled?

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'An excellent account of one major aspect of English history.'
Economic History Review
"An accessible, straightforward and perceptive introduction to late Hanoverian and early Victorian British History."Miles Taylor, King's College, London

From the Back Cover

"He takes for granted that there is only one history of England and not a basic course of political and party history with a few side-dishes on social conditions, literature, the arts, etc."
Eric Hobsbawm, New Statesman
"An excellent account of one major aspect of English history. It is in the mingling of political and social history so that each adds depth to the other that Professor Briggs s great strength and individuality are found..."
Economic History Review
"The title alone is enough to recommend it"
Catholic Herald
The Age of Improvement was first published in hardback in 1959 as part of Longman s prestigious A History of England series before being reissued in paperback in 1979. This remarkable book has long established itself as a classic of modern historical writing. With sales now reaching almost 100,000 copies the book been very widely read and quoted and has had a unique influence on teaching and research. Now, a further twenty years on, the book has been thoroughly revised and updated throughout - it is sure to be welcomed by a new generation of readers.
The Second Edition draws on the great volume of new research since the book first appeared - not least in the now flourishing field of Victorian Studies . Lord Briggs has made his own substantial contribution to this new research, reflected in his prodigious list of publications covering local history, history from below , the history of cities, the history of food and drink, the history of health, and the history of things .

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Perfect Study 12 Jan 2004
By Doug Anderson - Published on
First published in 1959 this remains an indispensible text to anyone with an interest in understanding the dynamic of one of the most misunderstood periods in English History. Most people think of prim moralists when they think of "Victorians" but after reading Asa Briggs 500 page sociological, economic, political and cultural survey the reader will be left with a far more complex and far richer impression of the Victorians and the complex issues that obsessed and defined them.
This book is primarily a socio-political history and in England power has traditionally rested in the hands of the landowners. At the time of the French Revolution very few members of Parliament believed in democracy. To both the conservative(Tory) and liberal(Whig) elements in the English Parliament the English Constitution was thought to be the best because it was government run not by the people but government run by those most qualified to run government . As the nineteenth-century progressed, however, it became impossible to deny a growing and increasingly wealthy middle class its say on election day. Change did happen but it happened very differently in England than in continental Europe. In a time when other European nations were experiencing violent revolutions England remained relatively stable and Briggs attributes this relative calm to a consistently strong English economy --for a time the worlds strongest. Many found the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 (which opened the way for free trade) to be the most significant legislature of the century. Reformist leaders and movements became popular during times of recession and the 19th century saw reforms in every area of life but reform in England was always a slow and deliberate process and reformist movements faded from the national consciousness during times of recovery. The 1830's saw the deepest recessions so it is not surprising that it was in that decade that the first major constitutional reform was passed extending the right to vote to the middle class. Many conservatives feared the move toward democracy would mean the end of England but in 1867 a second major consitutional reform extended the right to vote to the working classes. Political leaders were more often than not moderates whose main task was to maintain a balance between the various elements of Parliament which included Tories, Whigs, and Radicals. Throughout the period government like everything else was undergoing vast changes. Democracy presented a challenge to English political tradition and Darwin presented a challenge to English belief systems but the triumph of the age was perhaps its allegiance to balance and moderation in all things which was in part due to the Evangelical spirit of the time and in part due to the Utilitarian spirit popularized by legislative and law reformer Jeremy Bentham.
Briggs paints a portrait of an England that sees itself as the pinnacle of civilization. The age was defined differently by its optimists and its pessimists but Briggs sets down four main features that defined both the champions and the critics of the era: work, seriousness, respectabilty, self-help.
Briggs quotes extensively from the prominent men and women of the day(political and cultural figures) to give us an idea of how the Victorians viewed themselves and their era.
The Age of Improvement
Chapter 1 :Economy and Society in the 1780's
Chapter 2: Politics and Government on the Eve of the French Revolution
Chapter 3: The Impact of War
Chapter 4:The Politics of Transition
Chapter 5: Reform
Chapter 6: Social Cleavage
Chapter 7:Britain and the World Overseas
Chapter 8: The Balance of Interests
Chapter 9: Victorianism
Chapter 10: The Leap in the Dark
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