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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3455 Consumer Society in Historical Perspective

20 creditsClass Size: 28

Module manager: Bianca Scoti

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is mutually exclusive with

HIST3362American Consumer Society in Historical Perspective

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module explores the history of consumer society in the United States from the colonial era to the present, with reference to consumer society in Europe. It examines the transition from a consumer society that prized possessions to a consumer society that is based on throwaway objects and ephemeral experiences. It focuses on the history of economic institutions, social customs, and cultural values to help students understand that consumerism changes over time and is linked to larger historical developments.


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.
2) To teach students to understand the major scholarly approaches to 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
On completion of this module, students will demonstrate:
1) The ability to analyze cultural concepts such as “Progress” and the “American Dream” and to understand how these concepts have shaped consumers’ ideas of upward mobility and success.
2) An understanding that historical research encompasses the study of artefacts as well as documents.
3) The ability to articulate complex ideas and communicate them in discussion groups and in written assignments.


The popular cable TV series Mad Men has put the glamorous world of Madison Avenue and postwar American consumer culture in the public eye. Yet, consumer society is a familiar topic to scholars who have spent the past fifty years studying the history of consumption in Europe and North America. This course draws on that body of scholarship to examine the evolution of consumer society from the early modern era through the digital age. It examines the shift from “cultural hardware” to “cultural software,” that is, the transition from a Victorian keepsake culture that valued things to our own throwaway society, which values experiences and discards things. The module focuses on economic institutions and social practices in United States with reference to European developments. 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 course involves intensive readings and critical analysis.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours178.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Preparatory readings for lectures and seminars.
Preparing the oral presentation.
Engaging with the work of other seminar participants.
Writing the essay.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Progress will be monitored via individual contributions to class discussions, and feedback on the oral presentation, and on an assessed essay.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3,500 words due by 12 noon on Monday of Week 2 of the Exam period70.00
Presentation10-minute presentation plus 500-word report due in relevant seminar30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

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

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 07/09/2022


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