Joe Lane wins the Coleman Prize at the Association of Business Historians annual meeting

4 July 2019

Dr Joe Lane has been awarded a Coleman prize for his PhD thesis titled: Networks, Innovation and Knowledge: The North Staffordshire Potteries, 1750-1851, at the Association for Business Historians annual meeting at the Sheffield Hallam University. Named in honour of the British business historian Donald Coleman (1920-1995), this prize is awarded annually by the Association of Business Historians to recognise excellence in new research in Britain. It is open to PhD dissertations in Business History (broadly defined) either having a British subject or completed at a British university. To be eligible for the Prize, finalists must present their findings in person at the Association’s annual conference, held on 4-6 July 2019.

Dissertation abstract

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the industrial district of the North Staffordshire Potteries dominated the British earthenware industry, producing local goods that sold in global markets. Over this time the region experienced consistent growth in output, an extreme spatial concentration of physical and human capital, and became home to some of the most famous Master Potters in the world. The Potteries was also characterised by a growing body of useful and practical knowledge about the materials, processes and skills required to produce world-leading earthenware. This thesis exploits this striking example of a highly concentrated and highly skilled craft-based industry during a period of sustained growth and development which offers a rich opportunity to contribute to several strands of economic and business history. This thesis presents and analyses new empirical evidence based on trade directories to examine the organisational evolution of the district. It reconstructs the district at the firm level, analysing firm behaviour and demonstrating the region’s growth was incredibly dynamic. The spatial concentration of producers and the importance of social and business networks are also explored through the production of a new map of the region in 1802 highlighting each firm in operation, alongside social network analysis establishing the importance of social and business connections.

As a study of a craft-based, highly skilled industry without a legacy of formal institutions such as guilds to govern and protect access to knowledge, this thesis also offers substantial empirical and historiographical contributions to the study of knowledge and innovation during the period of the Industrial Revolution. It presents a new database of pottery patents alongside a variety of qualitative evidence such as trade literature, exhibition catalogues, advertisements and sales catalogues. Quantitative and qualitative analysis reveals the low propensity to patent in the North Staffordshire pottery industry, and provides a new typology of knowledge used in the industry. It demonstrates how the types of knowledge being created and disseminated influenced the behaviour of producers substantially, and this typology of knowledge is far more complex than those established tacit/explicit divisions favoured in historical study and the social sciences more broadly.

The findings of this thesis allow us to answer numerous outstanding questions concerning the development of the North Staffordshire Potteries during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When brought together in such a way, the complementary strands of research and findings presented offer a coherent narrative of an extremely complex and dynamic cluster of production that both challenges and confirms traditional historiographical tradition concerning industrial districts.

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