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Themes & Approaches to the Historical Study of Consumption (HI994)

Rebecca Earle
Timetable and Syllabus

Unless stated otherwise, seminars are scheduled to take place on Thursdays, 2-4pm in room SO.19.

Context of Module
Module Aims
Intended Learning Outcomes
Preliminary Bibliography

The history of consumption is the history of all the things that are part of our daily lives -- the things we desire, buy, wear, eat, drink, discard -- and of the ways in which the things we consume shape our lives. Consumption is today part of our daily life; this module explores the historical roots of modern consumption practices. It considers the interconnections between the places we, and people in the past, inhabit locally, and more distant worlds. This history of consumption explores the ways in which patterns of consumption connect the past and the present, and the local and the global. Themes we will cover--consumer revolutions, shopping, the cultural lives of things, fashion, food, etc.--can be studied in different historical contexts and geographies. The module is thus wide-ranging in terms of its chronology and geography, and aims to introduce you to a number of important historiographical debates.

Module Aims
To widen and deepen students’ understanding of themes in the study of consumption in history across chronological period and geographical area; to help students develop a conceptual and practical understanding of the skills used by historians of consumption; to help students hone their ability to formulate and complete a piece of critical and reflective historiographical writing; to support students in developing the ability to undertake critical analysis; to help students develop the ability to formulate and test concepts and hypotheses.
Intended Learning Outcomes
  • An understanding of a longer chronological and broader geographic history of consumption as a thematic field of historical expertise.

  • A conceptual and practical understanding of the skills used by a historian of consumption;

  • Improved ability to formulate and complete a piece of critical and reflective historiographical writing;

  • Improved ability to undertake critical analysis;

  • Improved ability to formulate and test concepts and hypotheses;

Timetable and Syllabus
  1. Consumption and Consumer Revolutions (Maxine Berg) 
  2. Consumption and the Cold War (Susan Carruthers)
  3. Visual and Material Cultures of Consumption (Anne Gerritsen) 
  4. Fashion and Taste (Maxine Berg) 
  5. Food and Food Cultures (Rebecca Earle)
  6. Reading week
  7. Drinking Cultures (Beat Kumin)
  8. Consumption and Collecting (Michael Bycroft)
  9. Diplomacy and Consumption (Guido van Meersbergen)
  10. Global Trade and Commodities in Everyday Life (Rebecca Earle)
Preliminary Bibliography

Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social life of things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1986).

Ina Baghdiantz McCabe, A History of Global Consumption (London: Routledge, 2015).

Maxine Berg, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

John Brewer and Roy Porter, eds., Consumption and the World of Goods (London: Routldge, 1993).

John Brewer and Frank Trentmann, eds., Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives: Historical Trajectories, Transnational Exchanges (Oxford: Berg, 2006).

Craig Clunas, Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’I Press, 2004).

Paula Findlen, ed., Early Modern Things (New York: Routledge, 2014).

Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello, eds., Writing Material Culture History (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

Daniel Miller, Stuff (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010).

Chandra Mukerji, From Graven Images: Patterns of Modern Materialism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).

Jeremy Prestholt, Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).

Donald Quataert, ed., Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire, 1550-1922 (New York: CUNY, 2000).

Daniel Roche, History of Everyday Things (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Frank Trentmann, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Pamela Smith and Paula Findlen, eds., Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science, and Art in Early Modern Europe (New York: Routledge, 2002).


One 6000 word assessed essay, to be submitted by 12 noon on Wednesday 27ᵗʰ April 2022 via Tabula.

Tutors: Maxine Berg, Michael Bycroft, Susan Carruthers, Rebecca Earle, Anne Gerritsen, Beat Kumin, Guido van Meersbergen
Term: Spring Term
Day: Thursday
Time: 14:00-16:00 (unless stated otherwise)
Room: SO.19 (unless online class is indicated)

ŒDhobi Ghat, Mumbai, Copyright Anne Gerritsen