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The Useful Knowledge of William HuttonCulture and Industry in Eighteenth-Century Birmingham$
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Susan E. Whyman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198797838

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198797838.001.0001

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An Author, a Desk, and a Notebook

(p.1) Introduction
The Useful Knowledge of William Hutton

Susan E. Whyman

Oxford University Press

The introduction shows the convergence and intertwining of the Industrial Revolution and the provincial Enlightenment. At the centre of this industrial universe lay Birmingham; and at its centre was Hutton. England’s second city is described in the mid-eighteenth century, and Hutton is used as a lens to explore the book’s themes: the importance of a literate society shared by non-elites; the social category of ‘rough diamonds’; how individuals responded to economic change; political participation in industrial towns; shifts in the modes of authorship; and an analysis of social change. The strategy of using microhistory, biography, and the history of the book is discussed, and exciting new sources are introduced. The discovery that self-education allowed unschooled people to participate in literate society renders visible people who were assumed to be illiterate. This suggests that eighteenth-century literacy was greater than statistics based on formal schooling indicate.

Keywords:   Industrial Revolution, Enlightenment, eighteenth-century Birmingham, literacy, education, self-education, autobiography, microhistory

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