Advertising and Consumerism in Britain, 1853-1960

This module explores the origins of modern ‘consumer society’ in Britain, introducing you to an exciting and innovative new field of historical research.

In the hundred years from the abolition of advertising tax in 1853 to the birth of commercial television in the 1950s, advertising became a ubiquitous feature of modern capitalism. You will examine the causes and consequences of this process of commercialisation using a variety of primary sources, from press reports, novels, and cartoons, to business archives, social surveys, and, of course, the advertisements themselves.

You will explore the changing relationship between people and their possessions, new retail environments, including the department store and the supermarket, how advertising has shaped modern gender identities, and how ethical consumerism was pioneered by the co-operative movement. Advertising is political, and you will also see how it helped Britain win two world wars and market the Empire to its own people. You will learn how advertisements work by designing your own advertising campaign in a particular historical context. You’ll never look at shops or advertisements in the same way again.