Giant Factories and the Making of the Modern World

Hosted by Hosted by the Ralph Miliband Programme

Alumni Theatre, New Academic Building


Professor Joshua B. Freeman


Dr Robin Archer

We live in a factory-made world; modern life is built on three centuries of advances in factory production, efficiency, and technology.  But giant factories have also fueled our fears about the future since their beginnings, when William Blake called them “dark Satanic mills.” 

Drawing on his recent book, Behemoth: The Factory and the Making of the Modern World, Joshua B. Freeman will discuss the history of the large-scale factory as a physical presence and economic and social institution, from eighteenth century England to modern China.  Using a series of case studies in both the capitalist and communist worlds, he will show how repeatedly big factories have been associated with utopian dreams, as well as nightmares of labour exploitation and environmental degradation.  Factories were once a favourite subject for writers, political theorists, painters, photographers, and filmmakers.  Today, we largely ignore these extraordinary social creations, on which, for better and for worse, our lives depend.

Joshua B. Freeman is Distinguished Professor of History at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  He is a leading expert on the history of labor, modern America, and New York City.  In addition to Behemoth: The Factory and the Making of the Modern World, his books includeAmerican Empire, 1945-2000: The Rise of a Global Power; the Democratic Revolution at Home, a volume in the Penguin History of the United StatesWorking-Class New York: Life and Labor since World War II; and In Transit: The Transport Workers Union in New York City, 1933‑1966.  He served as co-editor ofInternational Labor and Working-Class History and has written for many academic journals, The New York TimesThe Washington Post, The Nation and other publications.  He has appeared in a number of television documentaries, including Ric Burns' New York and “Nightmare in the City that Never Sleeps” from BBC Current Affairs.

Robin Archer is Director of the Ralph Miliband Programme at LSE. 

The Ralph Miliband Programme (@RMilibandLSE) is one of LSE's most prestigious lecture series and seeks to advance Ralph Miliband's spirit of free social inquiry.

Twitter Hashtag for this event: #LSEFactories

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