University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Darwin Humanities and Social Sciences Seminar > 'Consumption and Social Structure in Early Modern England'

'Consumption and Social Structure in Early Modern England'

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Study of the industrial revolution has until recently been dominated by a focus on the supply side of the economy but McKendrick was in the forefront of a revisionist school which drew attention to demand. In The Birth of a Consumer Society, McKendrick triggered a debate by arguing that a consumer boom which reached revolutionary proportions occurred in England in the third quarter of the eighteenth century.

Subsequent studies by Weatherill and Overton et al did not support the McKendrick thesis and argued that there was a widespread expansion of consumer goods in the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries. However, Weatherill’s study only covered the period up to 1725 and the Overton study also had limited evidence beyond that date.

Based on an analysis of 3,000 probate inventories, including more than 600 from the crucial post 1750 period, this paper provides new evidence to inform the debate. Over 250 inventories relate to labourers in Huntingdonshire and they provide rare evidence on the extent to which ownership of consumer goods extended down the social scale.

This talk is part of the Darwin Humanities and Social Sciences Seminar series.

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