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The University of Southampton

HIST2100 Retail Therapy: A journey through the cultural history of shopping

Module Overview

We are all, in one way or another, participants in the consumer society. Whether we buy for necessity - life essentials such as food - or view it as an enjoyable leisure activity, our purchase of goods is part of a wider cultural movement pushing us to ‘shop’. But how did we get to this point? Historically, what is it that has made us want to buy? This module explores how shopping, as we understand it today, evolved. Considering shopping at different points in Britain's history - the market places and specialist shops of the eighteenth century, the High Streets and warehouses of the nineteenth century, the department stores and malls of the twentieth century - we will examine the birth of the modern consumer society and within it, the roles played by manufacturer, seller, advertiser and shopper.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the origins and development of the consumer society;
  • the roles played by those who have influenced the way in which we shop;
  • how shopping is connected with wider social, economic, political and cultural debates;
  • key secondary sources exploring the history of shopping and the birth of the consumer society;
  • key primary sources illustrating aspects of working in shops and the wider shopping experience including the promotion of stores and their wares
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • participate fully and constructively in group discussion, arguing your case by drawing on your reading, knowledge and understanding
  • analyse and critically evaluate a variety of textual, visual and material culture sources
  • structure your ideas and research findings into well-ordered presentations and essays
  • contextualise a range of primary source material
  • actively engage with the secondary literature on the history of shopping, contributing to the debates relating to mass consumption and the origins and development of the consumer society
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • participate effectively in group discussion
  • develop your time-management skills
  • locate and use effective textual, visual and material culture sources in the library and on-line
  • develop your presentation skills
  • research historical questions and communicate your findings convincingly and concisely in written reports


This module takes a chronological approach, considering how our shopping habits and practices have changed and developed over a period of three centuries. Each week we will focus on a particular case study, giving you the opportunity to consider in depth the impact of certain individuals, types of shops and modes of selling on the broader history of shopping. As shopping is intrinsically linked with wider societal change, you will become familiar with key shifts taking place within each period - from technological advances, such as new manufacturing techniques, to shifts in economic growth, such as the rise of a new middle class and creation of a mass market; from improvements in trade routes, enabling goods to travel across the globe more quickly and more cheaply, to an increased understanding of the psychology of spending, including linked purchasing, subliminal advertising, brand recognition and the lure of the new. You will critically engage with a variety of primary source material on shops and shopping, including advertisements, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs, films and shop floor plans. You will interrogate secondary source material including documentaries and televised histories, ‘biographies’ of shops and chain stores, and theories of consumerism and the evolution of the consumer society, further developing your understanding of the act of shopping at different points within Britain’s history. Topics to be covered typically include:  Exotic imports: new goods and desirability in eighteenth century London  The birth of advertising: Josiah Wedgewood and the Portland Vase  Specialist sellers: the evolution of the High Street  Buy 'em low, sell 'em high: warehouse shopping in the nineteenth century  A different world: Charles Digby Harrod and the creation of the Department Store  Mass manufacture: Henry and his Model T-Ford  Chain Stores and the middle classes: Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and John Lewis  Out of town: moving to shopping centres and malls  Markedly different: Liberty, Habitat and brand creation  ‘I bought it on eBay’: the internet shopping revolution

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include:  weekly one-hour lecture and one-hour seminar  detailed examination, analysis and discussion of sources  short presentations by students  group discussions including feedback from the tutor Lectures will provide you with a general overview and understanding of chronology, sources and key concepts. This will be consolidated through readings and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material. Presentations and subsequent group discussion in seminars will help you to develop your own ideas about topics, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument. Learning activities include:  preparatory reading, individual research and study prior to each class  preparing and delivering short presentations relating to specific aspects of the module  studying primary sources, including textual, visual and material evidence  participation in group and class discussion In this module, learning and teaching activities focus on helping you to explore and investigate the ideas and themes outlined above. Throughout the module you will also engage in directed and self-directed study, for example through pre-seminar reading and through library research. The presentations (by you and your fellow students) and your reading will provide you with a broad overview of the secondary literature, using the bibliography provided at the start of the module. The discussion generated by these presentations will provide you with the opportunity to explore the relevant major historical debates on a weekly basis. In addition, you will study in depth a range of primary written and visual sources, as well as surviving material culture. These sessions will allow you to prepare for the assessment exercises. Feedback on your progress and development will be given via seminars and group discussions. Responses from tutor and your fellow students to your presentation will also give you formative feedback.

Preparation for scheduled sessions50
Completion of assessment task50
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Baudrillard, Jean (1998). The Consumer Society. 

Klein, Naomi (2000). No Logo. 

Cox, Pamela (2014). Shopgirls; The true story of life behind the counter. 

Bevan, Judi (2007). The rise and fall of Marks & Spencer. 

Davis, Dorothy (2010). A History of Shopping. 

Forty, Adrian (1986). Objects of Desire. 

Briggs, Asa (1984). Marks & Spencer 1884 - 1984: A Centenary History. 

Miller, Daniel (1987). Material Culture and Mass Consumption. 

Bourdieu, Pierre (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique on the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice. 

Rappaport, Erika (2001). Shopping for pleasure: Women and the Making of London’s West End. 

Sassatelli, Roberta (2007). Consumer Culture: History, Theory and Politics. 

Zola, Emile (2012). The Ladies’ Paradise. 

Marx, Karl (1990). Capital, vol. 1, (1867), trans. Ben Fowkes. 

We will draw on a range of primary source material relating to shopping and working in shops, including contemporary catalogues, advertisements, newspaper and magazine articles, diaries and letters. We will also explore contemporary writings on the birth of the consumer society and mass consumerism, including texts by Daniel DeFoe, Charles Baudelaire, Denis Diderot, Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen and Vance Packard.. 

Packard, Vance (1961). The Hidden Persuaders. 

Douglas, Mary and Baron Isherwood (1979). The World of Goods. 

Fraser, W. Hamish (1981). The coming of the mass market, 1850 - 1914. 

Veblen, Thorstein (1925). Theory of the Leisure Class. 

Wood, Martin (2014). Liberty Style. 

Glancy, Jonathan (2014). A very British Revolution: 150 years of John Lewis. 

Mauss, Marcel (2002). The Gift. 

Hebdige, Dick (1988). Hiding in the Light. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise 50%
Essay 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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