Making of a Historian
Summary: A podcast exploring one graduate student's quest to study for his comprehensive exams in history.
In this podcast we look at the history of the steam engine, from Hero of Alexandria, to Thomas Newcomen, to James Watt. Shownotes available at historian.live/home/coalpower
Show notes at historian.live/home/coal-4 The new economy was built on cheap iron and cheap coal. We talked about cheap coal last episode. Now we're going to talk about cheap iron. Ironmaking is a complicated and multi-stage process but spoiler alert: once people started to figure out how to use cheap coal to make iron, iron got a lot cheaper. The big thing to remember is that making iron takes a lot of energy. You need fire at high heats to melt the iron in order to refine it and forge it. For a long time people got that fire from charcoal, which is heavy, bulky, and expensive. In the 18th century people like Abraham Derby and Henry Cort learned how to make iron with coal, which was much cheaper than wood. This meant iron became less expensive, and could be made anywhere with cheap coal--which in Britain meant a lot of places.
For show notes and book lists, find the episode here: https://www.historian.live/home/2017/8/11/history-of-coal-3 This episode looks at coal in 18th century Britain. First, I give a rough overview of what 18th century Britain was LIKE, Men wore wigs and sometimes swords. There were queens and three kings, all named George. It was a time of change, and even maybe Enlightenment. Then I look at how coal remained cheap over the century, despite the fact that demand skyrocketed. It's a story of canals, wagonways, pumps, and the backbreaking work of miners.
Today we talk about coal before the Industrial Revolution. People needed a lot of wood in the past to heat their houses, cook their food, and make stuff like buildings, bridges and navies. When population increased, people shifted from wood to coal. After the Black Death, population in Britain slowly crept up meaning more expensive stuff. But things got really bad in the middle of the 17th century--the Little Ice Age. It was cold. It was crowded. People needed fuel, but the forests were shrinking. Big cities like London shifted to coal. Coal miners had a field day. Coal started to replace wood in a bunch of industrial applications. Boiling stuff was easy: salt, beer, alum. Other things were harder, like glass or baking bread. In the 17th century, Britain became something new: a society that got most of its energy from a rock, rather than from the sun. Music by Jonathan Lear. Image by Duncan Barton. For book lists, images, and graphs check out https://www.historian.live/home/2017/7/28/a2ipq6n6zn0bn91pyye5fo66fr7vfg
Show notes--including a wonderful custom made image!--at historian.live Making of a Historian is BACK doing a season on the history of coal. We start at the very beginning, in the Carboniferous period 300 million years ago. Then giant plants got trapped in oxygen-poor bogs and started to form the black burnable rock that will be at the center of our history. Questions? Feedback? Treats? Tweet me @mackieteacher Music by Jonathan Lear (jonathanlear.bandcamp.com) Images by Duncan Barton (instagram.com/duncandraw/)
Episode 102: I Passed! by Making of a Historian
Episode 101: Energy and Technology by Making of a Historian
Episode 100: Climate History by Making of a Historian
Episode 99: Cheap Energy by Making of a Historian
Episode 98: City Versus Night by Making of a Historian
Episode 97: Energy and Freedom by Making of a Historian
Episode 96: Dense and Strange by Making of a Historian
Episode 95: Not Natural by Making of a Historian
Episode 94: Non Humans In History by Making of a Historian
Episode 93: A Century of Civil Society by Making of a Historian