12th International Conference on Urban History European Association for Urban History (Lissabon, 3-6 September 2014)

Call for papers
12th International Conference on Urban History
European Association for Urban History (Lisbon, 3-6 September 2014)

Keywords: Material Culture; Consumption
Period: 19th Century
Type: Main Session

M21. Before the Assembly Lines: Materiality, Home and the Urban Consumer in Nineteenth-Century Europe and Beyond

In his autobiography My life and work (1922) Henry Ford famously remarked that you could buy his Ford T automobile in “any colour as long as it’s black”. His remark came to symbolize the final breakthrough of mass-production and mass-consumption at the turn of the twentieth century. Much has been said and written about the advent of ‘modern consumerism’, with debates focusing on the ‘birth of a consumer society’ in 18th-c. Britain on the one hand and on shopping and mass production in the late nineteenth-century on the other hand. Strange as it may seem, the period directly preceding the supply-side changes at the end of the 19th c. seems to be largely forgotten in historiography (Trentmann, 2013). Few scholars moreover have delved deeper in the specific material culture of the nineteenth-century homes, even though the steady cultural ascendance of the ‘breadwinner-homemaker household’-model and the development of ‘bourgeois domesticity’ are major narratives of the epoch.
In this session we aim to revive scholarly attention for the material culture in the era prior to the advent of what is commonly known in literature as the ‘second industrial revolution’. The drastic transformations directly preceding this era of mass-production – rapid urbanization and overcrowding; early industrialization and mechanization; the physical and sanitary degradation of the urban environment; social and political unrest due to impoverishment, but equally growing possibilities for social mobility and expanding purchasing power for larger groups as before – warrants renewed attention for the urban consumer and the myriad ways in which his (or her) home related to his Umwelt.
In welcoming papers exploring different dimensions of consumer practices from 19th-c. cities across the globe, we believe our session will have the potential to foster new insights in urban society at large. Questions to be raised relate, among others, to the social significance of changing consumer preferences and practices in an age of rapidly shifting social boundaries. Such an approach not only requires looking beyond mere public-private dichotomies, but also invites to investigate the political significance of everyday practices at home. Moreover, also the complexity of relationships between the rapidly transforming outer world and the domestic realm needs to be explored. Were nineteenth-century citizens, indeed, seeking refuge in a ‘safe domestic heaven’? And how did consumer preferences change under the growing public attention for sanitary and hygienist reforms? Such inquiry also raises questions about the significance of home in creating society and economy, eventually also the triumph of mass-production and mass-consumption?

Session organizer(s):
Bruno Blondé (Belgium) – University of Antwerp
Manuel Charpy (France) – CNRS / Université de Lille 3 – IRHiS
Ilja Van Damme (Belgium) – University of Antwerp

Paper proposals
Please submit abstracts (max. 300 words) on the conference website before October 15, 2013. (http://www.eauh2014.fcsh.unl.pt/)

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