Stories about People
History is always made by people. This, of course, equally holds true for the age of the Industrial Revolution. If you were to ask a friend about the gigantic dimensions of blast furnace, the dizzy depths of a colliery or the confusing mechanism of a spinning jenny, if he were honest he would probably answer: "I sometimes wonder how in the world anybody could ever have thought out something so complicated, and how people managed to survive such arduous living and working conditions". And if you really think about it, other questions arise almost automatically: "Could I have ever been the inventor? Would I ever have been capable of working so hard? How would I have been able to bring up and feed twelve children in a working-class housing estate?
Behind these questions hides the eternal questions about one's own identity: "Who am I, what am I capable of, where do I come from and where am I going?" These are the truly interesting, and indeed sole important questions about people and their existence. And our quest for answers lasts a lifetime; just as it does when we are on the track of answers to industrial history.
The first question "Where from?" reveals the historical dimension of our lives. Finding an answer is existentially important for every single person. A person who has no knowledge of his or her own history has a very fragile sense of self. But since the answers to our own personal history are often incomplete or incomprehensible, we turn to the history of other people as a substitute. Here we can find reflections of ourselves, and also standards against which we can measure ourselves. For this reason we spend our lives comparing ourselves to other people, and this quest is the most important reason for travelling the world. It is very important for tourist agencies and organisations never to forget that people are primarily interested in people.
For this reason ERIH does not confine itself to simply presenting inventions and factories, but also inventors and architects of both sexes. We want to tell stories about the Industrial Revolution because it is so near to us. Near, because it has shaped our lives more than any other age in history. Not only that; our memories are still fresh and, for this reason, the stories are so exciting and authentic.
And finally, Europe is the cradle of the Industrial Revolution! This is why we want to show the extent to which industrial history is a living part of European history. Indeed, much has changed since the invention of the steam engine, the railways and the pocket watch began to determine the rhythm of our lives. There are comparatively few surviving biographies which give us a feeling of life in mediaeval times. Since the invention of the steam engine written documents which have come down to us show how closely the living and working conditions of people all over Europe resembled each other. What was the basic difference between life and work in a colliery in Wales, Silesia or the Ruhrgebiet? And what about the engineers and the entrepreneurs? Is it important to know precisely where and how ideas were put into action? Perhaps. But it is immensely more important that ERIH tells the stories of the things which unite, rather than divide people in Europe.
This is why our biographies will tell you about significant people whose lives and activities transcended national and even European borders. The majority tend to be entrepreneurs and engineers rather than simple labourers. This can scarcely be otherwise because the source material on such personalities are much richer. But this is also a historic symptom of the fact that it was scarcely possible for a simple labourer to have such a huge influence. Aspects of labour tend to be rather covered more by the history of the international labour movement and less by the individual lives of a single collier. For us, this does not represent any gap in our stories, although we ought to be able to tell them in a more detailed manner here. If you look very closely, you will discover that all the ERIH sites retell the history of the common man and the arduous lives of working women in some detail, and as a precise part of their local history. Here it is particularly important for people to learn more about the lives of their grandfathers and great-grandmothers in local collieries and spinning mills.
As for questions about the future? if we look very closely we are able to read between the lines to obtain a number of individual answers. For example, when people talk about sustaining resources they can also learn a lot from our stories about how mankind has squandered natural resources to date. This is just one example. We invite you to search for more yourself. Read on!