Interview: The birth of industrialisation and its consequences
What does your research project consist of?
Our project consists of studying the emergence of industrial risk by comparing industrialisation and the relationship between Man and the environment. We are studying prevention policies, systems for repairing damaged material and also the health system and its development. Originally, risk management was overseen by the law, but then it moved towards technical management of industrial risk.
How is your research project innovative?
There are several previous studies, which we are using as a foundation, but these old projects mainly concerned the 20th century. We have chosen to study the birth of industrial risk over a long period from the 17th to the 19th century. We are looking to stick as closely as possible to this new trend which was industrialisation and how it was thought out in relation to the risks; this echoes current research on industrialisation and its impact on the environment. In addition, we are hoping to create a trans-national network based on this research in order to draw comparatist lessons between European countries which experienced industrialisation during this period.
Why do you need the Emergence(s) funding?
The Emergence(s) call for projects allowed us to develop this project on an international scale and to create a network of researchers. It also allowed us to fund a two-year research post, the first year of which is dedicated to the explosion of the Grenelle gunpowder factory (Paris, 1794), which was a serious incident in France. In the archives, we found compensation files for the 1,500 victims of this explosion, which allowed us to find out their names, ages and positions in the factory and also the compensation process which was set up.
The funding also helps us with research into the management of fires in England, studying archives and the organisation of scientific events.
What are your working methods?
We are working on the explosion of the Grenelle gunpowder factory, which will allow us to understand the compensation process, and the fires in England; we are analysing the parallel process of an increase in insurance and a new policy of prevention. In France, we chose to study factory fires in three regions, namely Normandy, Alsace and the North, and more specifically in cotton spinning companies. There is currently no published data on this subject, but this work will allow us, as with England, to first of all record the fires and the damage and to understand the prevention policy and the insurance system put in place.
How have you presented your project to the scientific community?
We held internal study days with all members of the team and several guests over two days in June 2011. Every two months we organise a seminar which is open to everybody. A new study day took place in Paris on 15 May and another will be held in Oxford on 18 June. We will organise a final symposium to present the entire project. A website has been created to summarise our project: http://risks.hypotheses.org/.
Another of our objectives is to hold an exhibition on this subject in Paris with archive documents, photographs and graphic representations of the accidents and the development of the machines (we would like to present some of these machines).
What has changed since the start of the research project?
The France-Great Britain trans-national network operates because, thanks to a Dutch colleague, we discovered new archives in London which showed fire prevention maps for some factories with their cartographies and the positions of the chimneys, ovens and high-risk areas. They had been produced on behalf of an insurance company. Our initial issues have not changed but we are adding to them as we make further discoveries.
Are any theses being defended? Have you published any articles?
We do not have a thesis for this project but we have taken on a post-doctoral student who is helping to go through and use the archives. We published an article in the Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine (Review of Modern and Contemporary History) in October 2011 on the explosion of the Grenelle gunpowder factory and its political dimension, and two other articles were submitted to French Historical Studies on the collapse of the quarries in Paris. We are thinking about a way of putting our database created from archives on the compensation of the victims of the Grenelle explosion online at the end of our project.
Corporate core within the Centre de Recherches Historiques (École des hautes études en sciences sociales (Centre for Historic Research, School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences - EHESS)/Centre national de recherche scientifique (National Scientific Research Centre - CNRS): Groupe de Recherche en Histoire Environnementale (Environmental History Research Group - GRHEn):
Thomas Le Roux, project leader (also Maison Française d’Oxford – French Centre in Oxford)
Other base laboratories:
Claire Barillé, IDHE (Historic Dynamics and Institutions of the Economy) Paris-X (Nanterre)
Patrice Bret, Centre Koyré-EHESS
Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, Imperial College (London)
François Jarrige, Université de Bourgogne
Michel Letté, CDHTE-CNAM (Centre for the History of Techniques and the Environment-National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts)
Philippe Minard, CRH (Historic Research Centre)/EHESS, IDHE Paris VIII Saint-Denis
Julia Moses, University of Sheffield
Liliane Pérez, Centre Koyré-EHESS, Université Paris VII
Christelle Rabier, London School of Economics and Political Science
Bénédicte Reynaud, Paris-Jourdan Sciences Economiques (Economic Sciences)
Niels Van Manen, University of Amsterdam
Award in October 2010: History of risks and industrial accidents in France and England from the end of the 17th to the end of the 19th centuries.
Nationality of the team members: French, British and Dutch.