Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’

Global History seminar
Frank Trentmann (Birkbeck)
17 March 2010
The Consumption of Culture – A Global History

This is a guest post by Bianca Harrisskitt, one of IHR Digital’s interns from the University of Leicester.

1347810149The growth of consumerism is a topic that seems to be receiving ever increasing academic attention, as historians, sociologists, economists and many others seek to study and explain the rise of the consumer culture. Professor Frank Trentmann of Birkbeck College delivered a lecture in March 2010 called ‘The Consumption of Culture’, as part of a larger project entitled ‘the Consuming Passion’, which sought to chart the history of consumption from 1600 to the present day.

The speaker identifies the two main problems which plague the historical understanding of the place of global developments and empire within the history of consumption. These include, firstly, the lack of research by historians on the period 1700 to 1900 and secondly, the ‘power vacuum’ in most consumer theories. Thus, in this lecture, the speaker strives to cover the 1700 to 1900 period, whilst paying attention to the role that power plays in the pattern of consumption.

In order to do this, Professor Trentmann aims to address four thematic areas of the history of consumption: the expansion of ‘drug foods’ (including chocolate, tea, coffee and sugar), slavery, the role of the consumer within imperial relations and the value of objects in relation to place. Through exploring these tropes Professor Trentmann aims to pinpoint how ‘empire’ impacted on consumers, and furthermore if and how consumers impacted on ‘empire’.

Additionally, the importance of time and the differences that occur over different time periods are considered throughout the speech. For example, Trentmann points out that tea is a typical example of the way in which exotic products embedded colonial meanings as well as colonial trade in ordinary lives in the eighteenth century, highlighting the impact of empire on consumers. However, the speaker states that whilst this is right for the eighteenth century, it does not necessarily apply to subsequent centuries. Patterns change over time, and Professor Trentmann goes to great lengths to demonstrate this.

On a concluding note, although the podcast is incomplete and we therefore do not get to hear Professor Trentmann elaborate on his final two thematic areas, his main argument is clear; it is absolutely crucial to engage with the entire time period, from 1600 up until the present day in addition to paying close attention to the role of power in order to understand the topic as a whole. Professor Trentmann therefore provides an informative and stimulating overview of the historical development of consumption and the approach needed in order to study.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Histories of Home
9 November 2011 
Trevor Keeble (Kingston University)
Living in the past: Acquisition and display in late nineteenth century homemaking
Replica of a Victorian dining room. Photo taken at The Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Lincoln, England.

Replica of a Victorian dining room. Photo taken at The Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Lincoln, England.

Trevor Keeble looks at the Victorian home through the lens of design as an act or process rather than the binary lens of production and consumption more commonly examined.  This paper looks at the rising trade in bric-a-brac in the Victorian era as an insight into the broader issues of homemaking.  Keeble asks why second hand objects became meaningful and desired and examines the entire process of buying old things and making them your own.  Indeed, the process of acquisition is something that is only now beginning to receive attention.  Through that interest Keeble not only provides an insight into Victorian homemaking but also into the emergence of the antique market and the backlash against it in various circles as unnecessary and wasteful (in terms of household expenditure).

 To listen to this podcast click here.

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