This book is a comprehensive study of English and American consumers and consumption before industrialization and mass urbanization. Carole Shammas examines the changes in what rural households bought on the market and what they produced themselves. She charts the incredible growth in what contemporaries called groceries–tobacco, sugar, and caffeine drinks–and in semi-durables–lighter textiles, pottery, glassware, and paper products–and discusses the effects of this growth on diet and domestic environment.
She also considers the process whereby the new goods got distributed. The sudden proliferation of shops and their relationship to market towns and peddling is also treated in depth. The comparison between England and America is of particular interest because the two were inextricably linked by trade and culture, yet their material situation, including land availability, population density, social structure, and natural resources differed greatly. Current notions about “consumer revolutions” and “consumer societies” are challenged and the author offers an alternative framework for evaluating changes in consumption patterns over time. She uses early modern data to est the adequacy of theories of consumption derived originally from twentieth-century experience. The results, she argues in this innovative volume, demonstrate the importance of history to the construction of social and economic theory.
“A stunning achievement, an important book that forces us to look at familiar evidence in new ways, challenges widely held views of the pre-industrial world, and establishes the ordinary consumer as a central figure in the early modern economy.”
-American Historical Review
“A stimulating and provocative discussion of the demand for and distribution of consumer goods and durables, and their impact on standards of living in early modern America and England.”
“…one has to applaud the sheer virtuosity of Shammas’ book. Wonderfully written, meticulously documented, and fascinating right down to the last footnote, it will undoubtedly make waves on both sides of the Atlantic.”
-History Workshop Journal
“This excellent and well-written book combines primary sources and an extensive secondary literature to provide the most ambitious overview of the origins of consumer societies that has so far appeared.”
-Economic History Review