Industry, Enlightenment and Dissent
in Industrial Enlightenment
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The efforts of Birmingham's intelligentsia to replicate a provincial variant of the pan-European Enlightenment were rooted in increasing affluence, and the pursuit of 'polite' leisure activities. This chapter focuses on the Protestant Dissenters for good historical and historiographical reasons. The Dissenters play an important role in the 'free town' myth of Birmingham's origins and rise to industrial supremacy. Many of the features of the crowd violence against Dissenters would reappear in 1791, during the riots aimed at Dr Joseph Priestley. Contemporaries were keenly aware of the role of Nonconformity in Georgian England, and the Dissenters themselves sedulously cultivated myths about their contributions to scientific knowledge and the industrial economy which historians have mostly endorsed rather uncritically. R. H. Trainor's longitudinal analysis of nineteenth-century political elites reveals a picture in which the strength of the Established Church was rivalled by Nonconformity in the towns of West Bromwich, Dudley and Bilston.

Industrial Enlightenment

Science, technology and culture in Birmingham and the West Midlands, 1760–1820

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