December 2023

IZA DP No. 16674: Enlightenment Ideals and Belief in Progress in the Run-up to the Industrial Revolution: A Textual Analysis

Using textual analysis of 173,031 works printed in England between 1500 and 1900, we test whether British culture evolved to manifest a heightened belief in progress associated with science and industry. Our analysis yields three main findings. First, there was a separation in the language of science and religion beginning in the 17th century. Second, scientific volumes became more progress-oriented during the Enlightenment. Third, industrial works—especially those at the science-political economy nexus—were more progress-oriented beginning in the 17th century. It was therefore the more pragmatic, industrial works which reflected the cultural values cited as important for Britain's takeoff.