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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3362 American Consumer Society in Historical Perspective

40 creditsClass Size: 16

Module manager: Bianca Scoti

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is mutually exclusive with

HIST3455Consumer Society in Historical Perspective

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Between 2007 and 2015, the popular cable TV series Mad Men put the glamorous world of Madison Avenue advertising agencies and post-war American consumer culture under the microscope before millions of viewers around the world. But consumer society has long been a familiar topic to historians, who have spent the past seven decades studying its development in Europe and North America. This module draws on that rich body of literature to examine the evolution of consumer society from the late-eighteenth century to the contemporary must-have-it-now digital age. It examines the transition from a Victorian keepsake culture that valued things to our own throwaway society, which discards things and values experiences. The module focuses on economic institutions and social practices in United States with reference to Great Britain and other economies. Students will be asked to explore the ethical dimensions of consumer culture, and to consider how the past can inform their decisions as consumers. The module involves in-depth readings, critical analysis, and the intensive use of original primary sources as historical evidence.


The objectives of this module are:
1) To teach students about the changing nature of consumer society in the United States from colonial times to the present with comparisons to other consumer societies such as Great Britain, France, and Japan, among others.
2) To help students understand the major approaches to research on the history of consumer society.
3) To explore the impact of economic institutions and social practices on consumer behaviour, product design and innovation, and marketing and advertising.

Learning outcomes
1. Understand the broad history of consumer society in the United States from the colonial era to the present;
2. Understand key developments in the history of consumer society of other societies, such as Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, as a counterpoint to the American example;
3. Be familiar with how to locate, analyse, and critique digitised primary sources that professional archives and libraries have made widely available on the Web in recent years, and understand how to differentiate between these curated materials and sources such as blogs, Wikipedia, and other non-curated online materials;
4. Deal critically with primary sources on American and British consumer society such as advertisements, retail catalogues, advice literature, artefacts, newspaper articles, popular magazines, and photographs, among others;
5. Understand the history of American and British consumer society from the perspectives of manufacturers, retailers, advertisers, and consumers with reference to culture, business and the economy, class, race, ethnicity, and gender;
6. Possess an awareness of how consumer culture has shaped American and European identity, and to be able to evaluate critically the arguments of the detractors and the celebrants of consumer society.

Skills outcomes
The module stresses active learning through the intensive research and analysis of primary sources as historical evidence.


This module explores the history of consumer society in the United States from the colonial era to the present, with comparisons to Great Britain and other consumer societies. It examines the transition from a consumer society that treated houses, furnishings, and fashions as prized possessions to a consumer society that is based on cheap throwaway objects and ephemeral experiences. It focuses on the history of economic institutions, social customs, and cultural values to help students understand that consumer society has changed over time and is linked to larger historical developments.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours352.00
Total Contact hours48.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)400.00

Private study

In time outside of the classroom, students are expected to complete the assigned readings for discussion and analysis in the seminars. They are also expected to work independently to develop bibliographies for their Assessed Essays and PowerPoint Presentations. They will need to spend time reading primary and secondary sources in those bibliographies for their Assessed Essays and Powerpoint Presentations. They will need to review the assigned readings and conduct additional library research to prepare for the exam.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students receive feedback at several stages during the module. 1) They will be encouraged to meet with the instructor during office hours as they decide on the topic of their assessed essay. 2) Students will receive verbal feedback on their illustrated Powerpoint Presentations immediately after their presentations and written feedback within 2 weeks. 3) Students will receive written feedback on their Assessed Essays (1 x 4000 words) within 2 weeks of the submission date which is the second week of the exam period for Semester I.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4000 word essay due 12 noon Monday of exam week 2 (semester 1)40.00
PresentationPresentation accompanied by PowerPoint, as directed by tutor10.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)50.00

Another comparable assignment will be given for resit

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Online Time-Limited assessment48 hr 00 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

There is no reading list for this module

Last updated: 07/09/2022


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