Consumer Revolution? Food, Things and Fashion in England 1500-1800: Context (HIH3598)

StaffProfessor Jane Whittle - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 90 credits of History at level 1 and/or level 2
Co-requisitesHIH3597 Consumer Revolution? Food, Things and Fashion in England 1500-1800: Sources
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

To examine the changing nature of consumption in early modern England, particularly changes in diet, housing and clothing, and the ways in which such things were acquired. It examines the adoption of new items such as tea, coffee, clocks, forks and cotton cloth, changes in housing, and the spread of shops, and asks whether by the eighteenth century, these changes constituted a 'consumer revolution'. It draws on a theoretical literature about the place of consumption in modern life, and examines whether it is applicable to historical circumstances, as well as surveying the new and lively field of historical research into early modern consumption. The module investigates how items were marketed and acquired by consumers; it examines how and why new patterns of consumption were adopted, and who by, in particular looking at the role of gender; and looks at people's attitudes to changing consumption patterns.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Evaluate the different complex themes within the topic 'Consumer Revolution? Food, Things and Fashion in England 1500-1800'.
  • 2. Make close specialist evaluation of the key developments within the period, developed through independent study and seminar work.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse the key developments within a particular historical environment.
  • 4. Focus on and comprehend complex issues.
  • 5. Understand and deploy historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Carry out independent and autonomous study in addition to group work, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 7. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 8. Present complex arguments orally.

Syllabus plan

After an introductory session on the meaning of consumption, the following topics will be covered: food and diet, drinking and sociability; cooking and dining; elite houses; vernacular houses, furnishing the home; new things (clocks and mirrors); elite fashion; men’s clothes; plebeian fashion; purchasing goods; shopping and gender; was there a ‘Consumer revolution’? Different theoretical approaches will also be considered such as Norbert Elias on manners and etiquette; anthropological work on gifts and commodities; and Thorsten Veblen on emulation.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities44seminars (22 x 2hr)
Guided independent study256Reading and preparation for seminars and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-6, 9Verbal from tutor and fellow students

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay253,000 words1-8Verbal and written
Essay253,000 words1-8Verbal and written
Unseen exam502 questions in 2 hours1-8Verbal and written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Two essaysTwo essays1-8Referral/deferral period
Unseen examUnseen exam1-8Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

• John E. Crowley, The Invention of Comfort: Sensibilities and Design in Early Modern Britain and Early America (John Hopkins University Press, 2001).
• Matthew Johnson, English Houses 1300-1800: Vernacular Architecture, Social Life (Pearson Longman, 2010).
• Joan Thirsk, Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads and Fashions 1500-1760 (Hambledon Continuum, London, 2007).
• Susan Vincent, Dressing the Elite: Clothes in Early Modern England, (Berg, 2003).
• Woodruff D. Smith, Consumption and the Making of Respectability 1600-1800 (Routledge, 2002).
• Amanda Vickery, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (Yale University Press, 2009).
• L. Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 1660-1760, (Routledge, London, 1988).
• Jane Whittle and Elizabeth Griffiths, Consumption and Gender in the Early Seventeenth-Century Household: The World of Alice Le Strange (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Consumer Revolution, Food, Fashion, English History