Consumer History

Sommersemester 2021

Time:  Wednesdays 1 p.m. – 2.30 p.m. + a 3 day-blockseminar, 30.06 - 02.07.2021

Beginning:  14.04.2021

Place:  Online, real-time (synchronous)

Dozent:  Prof. Dr. Karin Zachmann and Dr. Olga Sparschuh

ECTS: 6cp

Master Consumer Science

This seminar deals with the production, appropriation, and marketing of industrially produced consumer goods in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Using a variety of specific artefacts and goods, we will explore the cultural shaping and diversity of mass consumption, as well as its social function.  How does material consumption become transformed into individually experienced pleasure and social meaning?  Is the late 20th-century adage, “You are what you consume,” really true?  The starting point of this seminar is the understanding of consumption as culturally specific communication and experience.

Learning outcomes:

  • Understanding of consumption goods as technical products that work as cultural signs
  • Appreciation of the process by which the material and cultural appropriation of new technology by consumers becomes part and parcel of the innovation process and of the development of technology
  • Exploring semioticisation as cultural charging of technical goods in the various stages of the production, mediation, and use of these goods
  • Analysing the influence of users on innovations

A semester plan and lecture notes will be available on Moodle after registration.


  • Trentmann, Frank. Empire of Things. How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-first. London: Allen Lane, 2016.
  • Douglas, Mary, and Baron C. Isherwood. The World of Goods. New York: Basic Books, 1979.
  • Slater, Don. Consumer Culture and Modernity, Oxford, UK and Cambridge, Mass., 1997.
  • De Grazia, Victoria. Irresistible Empire. America’s Advance through 20th-Century Europe. Cambridge MA, London England, 2005.

Assessment format:

Oral presentation via Zoom, and an essay to be written during the semester break.