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GEC3102 The History of Consumer Culture: Home

Course Description

This course explores everyday objects and consumer culture from a historical perspective, beginning with the emergence of a bourgeois consumer society in 19th century Europe and then tracing the global expansion of mass consumption. This course is also designed to teach the essential skills of historical scholarship. It instructs students on how to assess different types of primary and secondary sources, evaluate scholarly arguments, integrate historical materials into writing, and conduct basic historical research.

Recommended Books

Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France

This book examines the origins and moral implications of consumer society, providing a cultural history of its emergence in late nineteenth-century France. Part One “The Development of Consumer Lifestyles” traces patterns of consumption from "The Closed World of Courtly Consumption" to "The Dream World of Mass Consumption," "The Dandies and Elitist Consumption," and the "Decorative Arts Reform and Democratic Consumption," in effect passing from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. Part Two “The Development of Critical Thought about Consumption” begins by reviewing earlier generations' thoughts about consumption before concentrating on the developments of the late nineteenth century.

A History of the World in 100 Objects

This book is the record of a series of programs on BBC Radio 4. 100 objects are chosen from the collection of the British Museum, ranging in date from the beginning of human history around two million years ago to the present day, spanning in space all over the world. Both humble things of everyday life and great works of art are included. The book is divided into sections comprising five objects each, all selected by specified time period. Each object is accompanied by an essay explaining its provenance, its significance, and what it has to say to us about the time from which it came.

Getting and Spending: European and American Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century

This book is a collection of essays submitted to the conference held by the German Historical Institute. The chapters in this book are post-conference revisions of most of the original submissions. The essays represent a variety of approaches to consumption in Europe and America. Their commonalities suggest recent directions in the scholarship, raising such themes as consumption and democracy, the development of a global economy, the role of the state, the centrality of consumption to Cold War politics, the importance of the Second World War as a historical divide, the language of consumption, the contexts of locality, race, ethnicity, gender, and class, and the environmental consequences of twentieth-century consumer society.

Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London’s West End

This book reconstructs London’s Victorian and Edwardian West End as an entertainment and retail center. Chapter 1 explores the development of Whiteley’s, one of England’s first department stores. Chapter 2 analyzes how shopping has deepened tensions between credit traders and customers and husband and wives. Chapter 3 documents the development of a feminist-inspired commercial culture in the West End. Chapter 4 considers the roles of women as producers and consumers in the city. Chapter 5 explores how department store helped construct shopping as a visual and public pleasure during the Edwardian period. Chapter 6 focuses on the theater and expands the analysis of shopping as a form of female spectatorship.

The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective

This book collects 13 original essays illuminating the development of modern consumption practices, gender roles, and the sexual division of labor in both the United States and Europe. Drawing on social, economic, and art history as well as cultural studies, these essays consider commodities from bread and potatoes, cosmetics, home appliances, and the dandy’s suit to social welfare handouts, movie melodramas, and pornographic picture cards. These essays focus not only on the construction of gender roles but also class relations embodied in consumption practices. These essays also break the bias that consumption is individual and brings back state into the study of consumption.

Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany

This book depicts a visual history of the transformation caused by Germany’s turn to colonialism and a mass consumer society. Chapters 1 offers a panorama of the origins of commodity culture. Chapter 2 turns to the habit of producing and reproducing a distant land in the form of a human figure in the world of print. Chapter 3 describes the emergence of the masters of the modern exotic. Chapter 4 focuses on the new prevalence of the motif of the African native in advertising and packaging around 1900. Chapter 5 and 6 turn to the racialization of black figures in German visual culture.

The Making of European Consumption: Facing the American Challenge

This book collects 9 essays that examine the influence of the USA on patterns of household consumption, mostly in North-West Europe in the period 1948–1965. Aside from two essays of general reference, the other seven essays are field, and usually also country, specific. The two general essays study the role of the European social-democratic tradition and the images of America circulating in Europe in the middle of the twentieth century respectively. Three of the seven field-specific essays deal with food, three with tourism, and one last essay with the industrial design of homes and domestic equipment.

Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe

This book examines the American Industry’s intent to establish economic hegemony in Europe in the twentieth century, as well as the irrefutable influence economics has had on events thereof. de Grazia demonstrates how, through consorted efforts, taking advantage of Europe’s struggle in rebuilding its war-torn infrastructure, and anticipation to get back to peace, American business provided Europeans with necessities as well as luxury items. Through this effort, American businesses and associations went from a minor economic player on the world stage to part of a dominant and imposing economic system able to affect economic and political change from across the Atlantic.

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