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"You've Never had it So Good": Consumer Society in the 20th Century West


Industrialisation fundamentally changed not only the ways in which people in Europe and the United States worked and lived, but also the ways in which they shopped. The advent of mass production in the early twentieth-century extended these changes: with more manufactured products available to more people than ever before, new methods needed to be developed to persuade consumers what to buy and new markets needed to be identified. At the same time, technological developments and changes in working patterns led to the emergence of new forms of consumption: mass entertainment (such as cinema) and mass spectator sport. This seminar will focus on the development of mass consumer culture in twentieth-century Europe and the United States, with a particular emphasis on advertising, gender and mass media.

Seminar Questions:

  1. How did the advent of mass production impact on the consumer experience?
  2. What role did advertising play in the formation of mass consumer society?
  3. In what ways was the emergence of mass consumer society linked to changes in gender roles following the First World War?
  4. What place does mass entertainment have in our understanding of the history of consumption?


  • Julia Sneeringer, 'The Shopper as Voter: Women, Advertising and Politics in Post-Inflation Germany', German Studies Review, Vol. 27, No. 2 (2004), pp. 476-501
  • David George Surdam, Century of the Leisured Masses: Entertainment and the Transformation of Twentieth-century America (New York, 2015), Chapter 11

Primary Sources:

Further Reading: