During the late 18th century and early 19th century, there was considerable social upheaval as a largely agrarian society was transformed by technological advances and increasing mechanization, which was the Industrial Revolution. Much of the agricultural workforce was uprooted from the countryside and moved into large urban centres of production, as the steam-based production factories could undercut the traditional cottage industries, because of economies of scale and the increased output per worker made possible by the new technologies. The consequent overcrowding into areas with little supporting infrastructure saw dramatic increases in the rate of infant mortality (to the extent that many Sunday schools for pre-working age children (5 or 6) had funeral clubs to pay for each other's funeral arrangements), crime, and social deprivation.
The transition to industrialization was not wholly seamless for workers, many of whom saw their livelihoods threatened by the process. Of these, some frequently sabotaged or attempted to sabotage factories. These saboteurs were known as "Luddites".
The Huns were "a confederation of warrior bands", ready to integrate other groups to increase their military power, in the Eurasian Steppe in the 4th to 6th centuries AD. Most aspects of their ethnogenesis (including their language and their links to other peoples of the steppes) are uncertain. Walter Pohl explicitly states: "All we can say safely is that the name Huns, in late antiquity, described prestigious ruling groups of steppe warriors."
The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who completed his work of the history of the Roman Empire in the early 390s, recorded that the "people of the Huns dwell beyond the Sea of Azov near the frozen ocean". Jerome associated them with the Scythians in a letter, written four years after the Huns invaded the empire's eastern provinces in 395. The equation of the Huns with the Scythians, together with a general fear of the coming of the Antichrist in the late 4th century, gave rise to their identification with Gog and Magog (whom Alexander the Great had shut off behind inaccessible mountains, according to a popular legend). This demonization of the Huns is also reflected in Jordanes's Getica, written in the 6th century, which portrayed them as a people descending from "unclean spirits" and expelled Gothic witches.
The 6th-century Roman historian Procopius of Caesarea (Book I. ch. 3), related the Huns of Europe with the Hephthalites or "White Huns" who subjugated the Sassanids and invaded northwestern India, stating that they were of the same stock, "in fact as well as in name", although he contrasted the Huns with the Hephthalites, in that the Hephthalites were sedentary, white-skinned, and possessed "not ugly" features:
The Ephthalitae Huns, who are called White Huns [...] The Ephthalitae are of the stock of the Huns in fact as well as in name, however they do not mingle with any of the Huns known to us, for they occupy a land neither adjoining nor even very near to them; but their territory lies immediately to the north of Persia [...] They are not nomads like the other Hunnic peoples, but for a long period have been established in a goodly land... They are the only ones among the Huns who have white bodies and countenances which are not ugly. It is also true that their manner of living is unlike that of their kinsmen, nor do they live a savage life as they do; but they are ruled by one king, and since they possess a lawful constitution, they observe right and justice in their dealings both with one another and with their neighbours, in no degree less than the Romans and the Persians
Since Joseph de Guignes in the 18th century, modern historians have associated the Huns who appeared on the borders of Europe in the 4th century AD with the Xiongnu ("howling slaves") who had invaded China from the territory of present-day Mongolia between the 3rd century BC and the 2nd century AD. Due to the devastating defeat by the Chinese Han dynasty, the northern branch of the Xiongnu had retreated north-westward; their descendants may have migrated through Eurasia and consequently they may have some degree of cultural and genetic continuity with the Huns. Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen was the first to challenge the traditional approach, based primarily on the study of written sources, and to emphasize the importance of archaeological research. Thereafter the identification of the Xiongnu as the Huns' ancestors became controversial among some.
The similarity of their ethnonyms is one of the most important links between the two peoples. The Buddhist monk Dharmaraka, who was an important translator of Indian religious texts in the 3rd century AD, applied the word Xiongnu when translating the references to the Huna people into Chinese. A Sogdian merchant described the invasion of northern China by the "Xwn" people in a letter, written in 313 AD. tienne de la Vaissire asserts both documents prove that Huna or Xwn were the "exact transcriptions" of the Chinese "Xiongnu" name. Christopher P. Atwood rejects that identification because of the "very poor phonological match" between the three words. For instance, Xiongnu begins with a voiceless velar fricative, Huna with a voiceless glottal fricative; Xiongnu is a two-syllable word, but Xwn only has one syllable. However, according to Zhengzhang Shangfang, Xiongnu was pronounced [ho.na] in Late Old Chinese, corresponding well to Huna. The Chinese Book of Wei contain references to "the remains of the descendants of the Xiongnu" who lived in the region of the Altai Mountains in the early 5th century AD. According to De la Vaissire, the Chinese source proves that nomadic groups preserved their Xiongnu identity for centuries after the fall of their empire. Most ancient texts in Europe and Asia, including Chinese, Indian and Islamic studies state that Huns originally came from north of China. According to Edwin G. Pulleyblank, European Huns comprised two groups of tribes with different ethnic affinities and the ruling group that bore the name Hun was directly connected with the Xiongnu.
Both the Xiongnu and Huns used bronze cauldrons, similarly to all peoples of the steppes. Based on the study and categorization of cauldrons from archaeological sites of the Eurasian Steppes, archaeologist Toshio Hayashi concludes that the spread of the cauldrons "may indicate the route of migration of the Hunnic tribes" from Mongolia to the northern region of Central Asia in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, and from Central Asia towards Europe in the second half of the 4th century, which also implies the Huns' association with the Xiongnu. The Huns practised artificial cranial deformation, but there is no evidence of such practice among the Xiongnu. This custom had already been practised in the Eurasian Steppes in the Bronze Age and in the early Iron Age, but it disappeared around 500 BC. It again started to spread among the local inhabitants of the region of the Talas River and in the Pamir Mountains in the 1st century BC. In addition to the Huns, the custom is also evidenced among the Yuezhi and Alans. The lengthy pony-tail, which was a characteristic of the Xiongnu, was not documented among the Huns.
When writing of the relationship between the Xiongnu and Huns, historian Hyun Jin Kim concludes: "Thus to refer to Hun-Xiongnu links in terms of old racial theories or even ethnic affiliations simply makes a mockery of the actual historical reality of these extensive, multiethnic, polyglot steppe empires". He also emphasizes that "the ancestors of the Hunnic core tribes were part of the Xiongnu Empire and possessed a strong Xiongnu element, and the ruling elite of the Huns claimed to belong to the political tradition of this imperial entity." Taking into account the historical gap between the Chinese reports of the Xiongnu and the European records of the Huns, Peter Heather states: "Even if we do make some connection between fourth-century Huns and first-century [Xiongnu], therefore, an awful lot of water had passed under an awful lot of bridges during 300 years worth of lost history."