University of Notre Dame

U.S. Consumer Culture

Course Number: HIST 10686

This course traces the development of consumer culture in the United States from the colonial era through the late twentieth century. It asks how Americans came to define the “good life” as one marked by material abundance and how transformations in buying and selling have shaped American values, politics, and national identity. One of our aims will be to develop a usable historical definition of consumer society and to evaluate when such a society emerged in the United States. We will examine the role that consumption has played in defining and policing ideals of gender, race, sexuality, and class. We will also consider how Americans have used consumer practices and spaces to advance political claims and notions of citizenship. The course is organized around key turning points in American consumer capitalism: the consumer boom of the eighteenth century; the market revolution and feminization of consumption; the birth of the department store; the rise of mass consumption and commercial leisure; the development of modern advertising and sales; the spread of chain stores and shopping malls; and the globalization of American consumer culture. In addition to recent scholarship and text-based primary sources, we will analyze artifacts of consumer culture, such as advertisements, catalogs, product labels, broadsides, film, and television.