Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Syllabus Archive

The following syllabi come from a variety of different terms. They illustrate the evolution of this course over time, and are intended to provide alternate views into the instruction of this course.

Fall 2007, Meg Jacobs (PDF)

Spring 2007, Meg Jacobs (PDF)

Fall 2005, Meg Jacobs (PDF)

Fall 2004, Meg Jacobs (PDF)

Fall 2001, Meg Jacobs (PDF)


This class examines how and why twentieth-century Americans came to define the "good life" through consumption, leisure, and material abundance. We will explore how such things as department stores, nationally advertised brand-name goods, mass-produced cars, and suburbs transformed the American economy, society, and politics. The course is organized both thematically and chronologically. Each period deals with a new development in the history of consumer culture. Throughout we explore both celebrations and critiques of mass consumption and abundance.

Format and Assignments

The requirements for this class are a primary sources journal (25%), class discussion (25%) and a final research paper (50%). Throughout the semester, students will be expected to have completed the readings before class, gather primary sources, and come prepared to engage in discussion.


Readings will include novels and non-fiction books. All materials are available for purchase at the MIT Server:

  • Dreiser, Theodore. Sister Carrie. (1900)
  • Lewis, Sinclair. Babbitt. (1922)
  • Packard, Vance. Status Seekers. (1959)
  • Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. (2001)

Writing Help

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