Abstract: The primary issue plaguing studies of the cultural “deep roots” of economic growth is tracking how culture changes over time. This is particularly true of accounts of Britain’s industrialization—arguably the most important historical episode driving long-run growth. Such accounts highlight how British culture evolved during the Enlightenment in ways which manifested a heightened belief in the possibility that scientific and industrial pursuits could benefit humanity. This paper tests these cultural evolution claims using textual analysis of 173,031 works printed in England between 1500 and 1900. Employing algorithms to classify volumes and determine their sentiment related to progress, the analysis yields three primary findings. First, there was little overlap in the language of science and religion beginning in the 17th century. Second, while scientific volumes did become more progress-oriented during the Enlightenment, this was most prevalent in volumes found at the nexus of science and political economy. Third, works related to industry were more progress-oriented beginning in the 17th century, and this is especially true of volumes at the science-political economy nexus. This suggests that it was the more pragmatic works related to industry—those that spoke to both a scientific as well as a broader audience of artisans and skilled craftsmen—that reflected the cultural values cited as important for Britain’s economic rise.


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