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American Consumer Culture, 1870-present

This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

What do we mean when we talk about the modern era in the United States as a “culture of consumption?” How have Americans created and reflected identities through participation in this culture? Beginning with the advent of mass production, advertising, and branding, we will examine the development of modern consumer culture, from its foundations in the 1870’s through the present. This course serves as an overview of the history of consumer culture and advertising, tying these themes to larger social, cultural, economic, and political developments in the United States, 1870--present.

Topics will include industrialization and branding, the rise of the department store and the mail order catalog, magazines, advertising at the beginning of the twentieth century, screen culture, the postwar boom in consumption, culture jamming and consumer activism, and the contemporary globalized market. We will also pay careful attention to how consumption has been represented in popular culture and media by examining and analyzing primary sources like short stories, advertisements, television and film, fashion magazines, and websites. Examples of these sources include the 1900 Sears Catalog, 1950s commercials, Mad Men and Wall-E.

You will become familiar with major issues in the cultural history of the twentieth century as well as explore the guiding themes and methodologies of the discipline of American Studies. Themes from this class will help contextual material in AP and regular US History courses. In addition, you will develop skills in reading and writing that can be applied to a variety of disciplines on both advanced high school and college levels. Finally, you will learn to perform close readings of evidence in the form of film, television and other media.

A basic knowledge of U.S. History is useful, but not critical.