Course Description                                                                                                                                    

Barbara Kuger’s famous billboard proclaimed: ‘I Shop Therefore I am’ making a bold statement about the increasing rise of consumerism in America.  From the turn of the 20th century, marketing and advertising have become central to American society, as everything from cigarettes to single lifestyles are packaged and sold. Surrounded by unattainable luxury, young people in America grow up with a culture that dreams of success in images of bigger homes, faster cars and celebrity styles.  In this course we examine America as a consumer society and explore consumer behaviors as they have been shaped by emergent technologies and practices in marketing and media. We look at critiques and concepts that have constituted the study of consumer society form the turn of the 20th century to today. Throughout the course, students are encouraged to test and debate established theories by bringing them to bear on everyday practices and their own social and cultural experiences as consumers.


Course Objectives                                                                                                                            

  • Understand the changing historical forms of consumerism from turn of the 20th century America to the present
  • Analyze how the concepts consumption and consumerism have changed over time
  • Understand recent historiographical trends in the fields of consumer history and the history of consumer society and mass media
  • Examine how political and economic institutions, as well as social practices, have shaped changing patterns of consumer behavior, product production, and the marketing of goods and services
  • Analyze how ideologies relating to ‘the good life’ and ‘the American Dream’ have shaped consumer behavior and people’s understandings of achievement, success and failure.
  • Analyze and evaluate case studies that evidence significant changes, events and emergent practices in consumer societies
  • Facilitate class discussion by introducing case studies and posing questions to the class
  • Engage with social media, digital archives and internet research as part of the historical learning process
  • Write a case study analysis based on print and online research



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