In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Domestic Production and Consumption in the Atlantic World

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Document Collections
  • Treatises and Diaries
  • Newspapers
  • Conceptual Works
  • Domestic Production
  • Ethnic/Racial Approaches
  • Gender Approaches
  • Ideology
  • Contexts and Comparisons

Atlantic History Domestic Production and Consumption in the Atlantic World
Robert DuPlessis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0032


In the past several decades, household production and consumption have emerged as important—and usually linked—historical subjects. Much of the scholarship is concerned with societies located around the Atlantic, though only a minority attempts either to organize research within an explicitly Atlantic framework or to discuss more than one area in the basin. More commonly, works focus on these topics within individual political units (regions, states, empires), social groups, or categories of consumer goods. Many studies encompass more than the Early Modern period (16th–18th centuries). But that era is typically seen as decisive, the eighteenth century most of all. Then, it is frequently argued, occurred a “consumer revolution” that accompanied or, in some accounts, preceded factory industrialization. Even when no consumer revolution is postulated, moreover, scholars generally agree that fundamental changes took place between about 1500 and about 1800: the wide diffusion of innovative agricultural and manufactured commodities in areas in which they had previously been unknown; the proliferation of new shopping venues and retailing techniques; the participation in household production and consumption of marketed goods by many more and more varied groups than ever before. The exciting scholarship that investigates these themes is multinational and multidisciplinary. Anglophone historians have been particularly attuned to developments in anthropology and cultural studies, their counterparts elsewhere to economics and sociology—though neither “school” is exclusive in its orientation and cross-fertilization is constant. Research into household production and consumption in the past can also be found in works on economic and cultural history. More often, these consumer and material culture histories overlap; though consumption is often defined as the processes and practices of acquiring and using, and material culture as what is acquired and used, in reality the distinctions are difficult to maintain either theoretically or empirically. This means that a multitude of competing concepts, interpretations, and approaches characterize the historical study of consumption and household production, making it a lively and rewarding field.

General Overviews

Though Braudel 1982–1984 includes much material about developments in the early modern Atlantic world, there are, as yet, no general treatments of household production and consumption in that basin. Lemire 2018, which takes a case study approach to early modern global consumption, also attends substantially to North Atlantic societies. Brewer and Porter 1994, an influential collection mainly concerned with Europe and North America, has helped define relevant approaches, interpretations, and areas of research. Trentmann 2012, a compendious anthology addressing consumption in many regions of the world, also includes essays concerned with specifically Atlantic topics; Trentmann 2016 synthesizes much of the material in that author’s earlier edited volume; Kwass 2022 is the most up-to-date overview of developments relating to European consumption cultures. More directly pertaining to the early modern centuries, if limited to Europe, Smith 2002 offers a suggestive understanding of the motivations driving changes in consumer behavior.

  • Braudel, Fernand. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century. 3 vols. New York: Harper and Row, 1982–1984.

    Massive, highly influential attempt to synthesize histories of economic change, material culture, and consumption on a global scale within an early version of world-systems theory.

  • Brewer, John, and Roy Porter, eds. Consumption and the World of Goods. London: Routledge, 1994.

    Important collection of historiographical, methodological, and substantive articles on consumer goods of all sorts and the new habits and understandings they generated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

  • Kwass, Michael. The Consumer Revolution, 1650–1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2022.

    DOI: 10.1017/9780511979255

    Synthesis of recent scholarship on and debates about early modern consumption changes and continuities, focused on Europe. Includes discussion of goods production, consumer politics, and environmental costs. Most current bibliography on topics covered.

  • Lemire, Beverly. Global Trade and the Transformations of Consumer Cultures: The Material World Remade. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1017/9780511978814

    Places novel early modern consumption patterns and policies, largely in Europe and North America, within the context of newly available goods from around the world and often informal or illegal modes of distribution. Maintains that the result was a “cosmopolitan material culture.”

  • Smith, Woodruff D. Consumption and the Making of Respectability, 1600–1800. New York: Routledge, 2002.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203826416

    Argues that concern for respectability and appropriate behavior, which lent a moral and political purpose to consumption, lay behind the rapidly growing demand for tropical foodstuffs (tea, coffee, sugar) and imported textiles in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

  • Trentmann, Frank. Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First. New York: Harper, 2016.

    Distinguishes three consumption cultures that have defined and determined desires and demand since the European Renaissance. Like many studies of consumer goods and behavior, the book integrates numerous illustrations into its interpretation.

  • Trentmann, Frank, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199561216.001.0001

    Three dozen articles analyze consumption technologies, commodities, and practices in diverse locations and social groups from Antiquity to the early twenty-first century. Each essay presents up-to-date conceptualizations, historiography, and bibliography, while several contributions situate Atlantic patterns in global contexts.

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