Amidst Things: New Histories of Commodities, Capital, and Consumption

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Abstract

The article engages with three recently published works, which represent a cross-section of different approaches to studying process related to the material world. The works consider the emergence of global systems of cotton manufacturing and its relationship to capitalism, the growth of tea consumption in Britain and its social, cultural and economic impacts, and histories of consumption over a broad chronological and geographical span, respectively. Together they demonstrate that histories of production, trade, consumption and use, are being rethought in light of new approaches and questions prompted by global history and new histories of capitalism. At the same time, the article argues, the publication of these works suggests that fundamental assumptions about the material world are changing. Under the influence of new materialism, historians are increasingly being driven to tackle questions of agency, materiality and thingness. As a result, rather than studying what objects mean, historians are increasingly asking what things do. The article argues for the need to ensure that such approaches continue to interact with cultural and social concerns in order form analyses that fully grapple with the complexity of the material world, as it existed in the past.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
JournalThe Historical Journal
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2018

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