Instructor: Professor Danielle Kinsey

painting of women driking tea

This image is taken from the Empire Marketing Board’s interwar advertising campaign to encourage Britons to buy colonial produce. It somewhat creepily depicts how everyday British domestic life was underwritten by colonialism and how consumer culture “at home” shaped political economies around the world.

 Description: Much European historiography considers the production side of the economy by setting up concepts like Industrial Revolution and explaining its rise, stages, consequences, and apparent lack in certain contexts.  It is only in the last thirty years or so that historians have begun to take seriously the consumption side of the economy, some going as far as to argue that the development of mass consumer culture was the true engine of modernity (a concept to be unpacked, for sure). In this course, students will identify and analyze key debates, priorities, and methodologies that have been at work in writing about consumption in European history.  We may contend with concepts of the domestic sphere, consumer revolution, emulation theory, modern advertising, mass distribution, consumer agency, addiction theory, thing theory, habitus, performativity, the history of the senses, the digital revolution, and the history of everyday life. Students will begin by considering how consumption is conceived of in theoretical texts such as those by Smith, Veblen, Marx, Benjamin, and Bourdieu. We will then analyze examples of how the history of consumption has been written, often informed by these thinkers. Students will end the course by identifying current trends in the field and considering how the frameworks and concepts they have learned can be applied to their master’s projects.

Format: This is a seminar course that will meet every week for three hours.

Evaluation: Substantial weekly participation in class discussion is crucial for success in this course. In addition to being evaluated every week on their preparedness for and engagement within class discussion, each student must complete the following assignments:

  • Complete 1-page reading responses for each class
  • Write a 5-8 page paper analyzing how consumption is treated in a particular theoretical text; give a 10-15 minute in-class presentation on your findings
  • Lead class discussion at least once in the term
  • Write two 5-7 page papers on consumption historiography. The topics of these papers will be decided upon in consultation with the instructor and will, ideally, be about how the student’s own graduate project relates to the material from class

Readings: Readings for the course have not been set but will amount to a reading load of either one monograph or several articles/chapters per week.  Articles will be made available online; students are responsible for obtaining their own copies of assigned monographs.  You can obtain monographs through the MacOdrum library via ILL or they will be available for purchase at Octopus Books (116 Third Avenue).

  • Readings may include:
  • Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power
  • Charlotte Sussman, Consuming Anxieties
  • Roy Porter and John Brewer, eds, Consumption and the World of Goods
  • Daniel Roche, The History of Everyday Things
  • Victoria de Grazia and Ellen Furlough, eds, The Sex of Things
  • Erika Rappaport, Sandra Dawson, Mark Crowley, eds, Consuming Behaviours
  • Elaine Freedgood, The Ideas in Things
  • Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies
  • Constance Classen, ed, A Cultural History of the Senses in the Age of Empire
  • Pamela Swett, Selling Under the Swastika
  • Donald Quataert, ed, Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire, 1550-1922
  • Peter Gurney, The Making of Consumer Culture in Modern Britain
  • Leora Auslander, Cultural Revolutions