Category: history of consumption

    Consumer Engineering

    book cover with an illustration showing a human head sectioned off into different labeled properties, a hand with a calipers on top marking off another spot.

    Another editorial project is nearing completion. Waiting for the page proofs now for Consumer Engineering, 1920sโ€“1970s: Marketing between Expert Planning and Consumer Responsiveness, ed. Jan Logemann, Gary Cross, and Ingo Kรถhler (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

    A Few Notes on the History of Knowledge

    One of the new research focuses at the GHI since our director, Simone Lรคssig, began her tenure last October is the history of knowledge.[^1] The study of knowledge in its societal context (as opposed to thought experiments about truth in the discipline of philosophy) has some tradition in sociology and anthropology, but it is still a relatively new focus in English-language historiography, at least in my experience.[^2]

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    Communism, Consumerism, and Currency

    Photograph with a wall showing Chines Communist propaganda, including some sandbags on the floor, with a cash machine in front of it and some store advertising on the right

    Seen at an upscale mall in Guiyang, China this summer. (Photo by author)

    Kitchens of the Future

    Imagined in the 1950s (a future seemingly impervious to changes in normative gender roles), two kitchens on YouTube:

    Source information, according to the anonymous YouTube user:

    Selections from two industrial films from the 50s. First, the Frigidaire kitchen from General Motors' “Design for Dreaming,” a promotional film for the 1956 Motorama. Second, a section from film coverage of the Monsanto “House of the Future,” located in Tomorrowland in Disneyland. Just one word: “plastics.”

    Update: I've removed my YouTube embeds because I don't want to set up consent notices for their trackers

    . Clicking the above screenshot will take you to the video on their site. (June 2, 2024)

    Book Review: GDR and Consumption

    I recently reviewed an interesting anthropological study by Milena Veenis entitled Material Fantasies: Expectations of the Western Consumer World among East Germans (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press in cooperation with the Foundation for the History of Technology, 2012) for the Dutch Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis (Journal of Social and Economic History). The two-page review is in English and is openly available.

    Book cover showing a streat scene in the GDR that includes a Trabi and a sign reading 'Jeans'

    Military History and Business History

    My research deals with war and society, while my editorial work addresses mainly consumption history. One might think these are two different worlds, but I’m coming to doubt the validity of such assumptions. Indeed, the subfields of military and business history have a lot of similarities. Most obviously, they are both interested in organizations, knowledge, experts, and elitesโ€”among other things. They are also both informed by a tension between the historian’s ethos to understand the past for its own sake and the practitioner’s desire to learn lessons from that past for today. And they both have homes not only in history departments, but also institutions that train future generations of professionals, whether officers or MBAs. This tension also means that military history and business history are sometimes looked down on by the field of history more generally, even though bread-and-butter themes such as class, race, gender, citizenship, politics, and power more generally cannot be adequately understood without consideration of militaries and businesses.

    Consumption History Again

    Black and white photo of a strip mall in Washington, DC,  1970s or early 1980s, judging by the cars on the road.

    Park & Shop Shopping Center, Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC, via Library of Congress.

    Yesterday I asked how I could integrate the consumption history I’m learning into my teaching, and I pointed to a couple examples where it’s already there. But I missed a glaringly obvious one: the Great War.

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    Editing and Consumption History

    Since I began my editing job a little over a year ago, I have begun learning a little about a lot of history that I had previously never experienced. While my editing has included a variety of smaller projects as diverse as the interests of the institute's fellows and recent alumni, my main area of responsibility is editing a new series on consumption history. Two volumes are under contract, and a third will be very soon, but I've been forcing myself to sit on my hands and not go into details here until things are actually published.

    Meanwhile, I have begun to wonder how I might integrate what I'm learning about modern consumer societies into my teaching. Connections sometimes come up spontaneously in class, but maybe I could do something more meaningful. Well, in the past I have used Emile Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames (aka The Ladies' Paradise), which I first encountered as a teaching assistant for Sandra Horvath-Peterson. And next fall I will use Uta Poiger's Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany in a survey of modern Germany. But how could I approach the issue more systematically (when I am able to make some time for reflection)