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A university lecture by a professor of Social History

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Listen to audio recording and answer the questions.

Narrator
Listen to part of a university lecture by a professor of Social History

Professor: Is anyone in class wearing cotton today? Cotton socks? Jeans? I'll bet we're all wearing something made out of cotton. I'm wearing cotton underwear. Cotton's the most common natural-fiber fabric used in clothing. It comes from a sort of pod called a 'boll', which surrounds the seeds of a shrub that is native to tropical and subtropical areas all over the world- in Africa, in India, in the Americas. And the history of this fiber is intimately associated with much of civilized history.

Cotton's been collected, spun into thread, woven into fabric, and dyed in all sorts of colours and patterns, since prehistoric times. It was first cultivated in the Old World as long as seven thousand years ago, in the Indus Valley of northwest India, where the industry became so well-developed that some of their ancient methods of spinning and weaving continued to be used right up until the modern industrialization of India. And in the New World, they began cultivating cotton in Mexico about eight thousand years ago. This was in the pre-Inca cultures along the coast, and the colors and texture of their ancient textiles resemble the ones that are found in Egyptian tombs.

The use of cotton spread with the empire of Alexander the Great, and with the Moors, and with Marco Polo, and by the end of the sixteenth century, cotton was being grown commercially throughout the warmer regions of Asia and America. Terrycloth, denim, chambray, corduroy, dimity, flannel, gingham, organdy, percale, poplin, seersucker- these are all cotton fabrics used today.

The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain boosted cotton production tremendously, and textiles became Britain's main export. The invention of machinery like the spinning jenny in 1764 and the cotton gin in 1793 dramatically expanded the industry. By the 1840s, India could no longer supply enough raw cotton for all the British factories, and then traders began to buy it from the new American and Caribbean plantations. This cotton was cheap, because it was worked by unpaid slaves, and cotton quickly became the basis of the economy of the American South.

Back in 1793, the US harvested only about ninety tons of cotton. In 1795, two years later, it harvested eight thousand tons of cotton. And in 1810, the US produced over 47,000 tons- all because of Eli Whitney's invention, the cotton gin. The cotton gin was a simple mechanism for cleaning the seeds from the cotton bolls. A slave could hand-clean only a single pound of cotton a day, but Whitney's first gin could clean more than fifty pounds in the same length of time. With the help of James Watt's new steam engine to operate the gin, the process became completely mechanized, and the Industrial Revolution had begun in earnest in America.

This development, however, wasn't all for the good. With this new ability to produce great quantities of the stuff, and the increasing demand from Britain for cheap raw cotton, larger and larger plantations of the crop were needed to keep up, and so the demand for more black slaves also increased dramatically. It was the improvement in cotton production that actually caused the continuation of slavery in America, until it was finally ended by the American Civil War, which began in 1860.

During this war, Southern cotton exports plummeted, because the Northern navy blockaded all the Southern seaports. The South hoped that Britain's greed for cotton would induce it to recognize the southern Confederacy or even to enter the war on their side- but instead, Britain turned away from the US and turned to Egyptian cotton for its supply.

At the end of the Civil War, in 1865, the American slaves were free men, but cotton production still continued strong under the sharecropper system, where free black farmers worked on white-owned plantations for a share of the profits. And Britain promptly returned to the cheap American market, abandoning Egypt. Now, Egypt had assumed a big national debt in order to quickly develop its cotton production, and it'd been relying on this crop as its chief export. But with its main customer suddenly gone, Egypt drifted into bankruptcy in 1876, and soon after that, it was annexed to the British Empire.

Today, the United States is the world's largest cotton exporter, and most of the world's cotton is from the American variety of the plant. In 2009, the US was the number-one exporter, followed by India, Uzbekistan, Brazil, and Australia. The biggest non-producing importers are Korea, Russia, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong.

On the other hand, the world's biggest producer of cotton is now China, which harvested more than eight million tons of the stuff in 2009. China's followed by India, the US, Pakistan, and Egypt, as the five largest producers. In the case of China and India, though, most of their production is used by their own domestic textile industries, where China churns out all those cotton T-shirts reading 'Made in China' that we wear these days.

1

Which title would probably best fit this lecture?

2

Which country was NOT an important cotton grower in the 19th century?

3

Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in which year?

4

The early cotton gin could clean how much more cotton a day than a laborer could?

5

According to the lecture, which statement is NOT true?

6

Which fact makes cotton a good choice for a clothing fabric?