Nguyen, Bich-Tram


Belgium was the second country after Great Britain to partake in the Industrial Revolution, making it the first country in continental Europe. Originally a “traditional” nation of small villages and rural areas, Belgium’s leap into industrialization was mostly unexpected. It turned out, however, that the nation was rich in coal, which was necessary for industrialization. Coal reserves were abundant in south Belgium, referred to as Wallonia (French speaking southern Belgium). This region became the first to follow the British model of industrialization successfully around the 1820s-1830s. In capitalizing on its deposits of coal and iron, Belgium “exemplified the radical evolution of industrial expansion.” The nation grew to become the 2nd biggest industrial power (in proportion to its population and territory) behind Britain at the time.

With industrialization being concentrated in south Belgium, Wallonia experienced great prosperity. This economic success, however, was not mirrored in Flanders, or Dutch speaking northern Belgium. The Industrial Revolution, then, created two distinct Belgian communities. In the north was Flanders: a very Catholic society that hardly made any efforts towards industrialization. During most of the 19th century, it was a traditional region whose economy was still based on agriculture. Flanders was a stark contrast to the new Wallonia, which had become a center of urbanization and industrialization. This difference would also lead to a clash in political ideals. As Wallonia became more urbanized, liberal and socialist movements started to rapidly emerge. These movements grew in great conflict with the conservative Catholic roots of the North. Politics was characterized as a struggle between Catholics and Liberals. According to Samuel Clark in Nobility, Bourgeoisie and the Industrial Revolution in Belgium, “…the Catholics represented the relatively religious, conservative and rural elements in the society, while the Liberals represented the more secular, more progressive and more urban middle-class elements.” The Industrial Revolution, then, brought about new liberal ideologies that came to butt heads with the more conservative values of pre-industrial Belgium, creating a new political climate.