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

Rebecca Earle
Timetable and Syllabus
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. Introduction to the history of consumption (Susan Carruthers)
  2. Visual and Material Cultures of Consumption (Anne Gerritsen) 
  3. Consumption and Collecting (Michael Bycroft)
  4. Drinking CulturesLink opens in a new window (Beat Kümin)
  5. Diplomacy and Consumption (Guido van Meersbergen)
  6. Reading week
  7. Fashion, Identity and Consumption (Susan Carruthers)
  8. The politics of consumption (Susan Carruthers)
  9. The Ethics of Consumption: From Boycotts to Fair Trade (David Lambert)
  10. Travel, Tourism and Hedonism (Liz Chant)
Preliminary Bibliography

While we're on the topic of bibliographies, here is the link to the Tallis reading list, which includes all the key readings for seminars: HI994 Tallis Reading List1

Here are some readings you might find useful to help you orient yourself in the history of consumption.

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, see Tabula for deadline.

Tutors: Susan Carruthers, Anne Gerritsen, Michael Bycroft, Beat Kümin, Guido van Meersbergen, David Lambert, Liz Chant
Term: Spring Term
Day: tbc
Time: tbc
Room: tbc

ŒDhobi Ghat, Mumbai, Copyright Anne Gerritsen