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Consumer Culture and Consumption Landscapes in Post-War America
Resources and Links

Theme: An Industrious People: American Economic History
Topic: Consumer Culture & Consumption Landscapes in Post-War America
Date: Summer 2005

Annotated Bibliography | Primary Sources- General | Primary Sources - Autobiography and Fiction| Primary Sources - Movies/ Video Recordings | Websites and Web Resources | Related Archives and Collections | Other

Resources and Links compiled and annotated by Steven Corey, Ph.D., Professor of Urban Studies, Worcester State College (scorey@worcester.edu) and SALEM in History staff


Annotated Bibliography

Compiled and annotated by Steven Corey, Ph.D., Professor of Urban Studies, Worcester State College (scorey@worcester.edu) and SALEM in History staff

Secondary Sources

Adams, Annmarie. “The Eichler Home: Intention and Experience in Postwar Suburbia” in Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture V: Gender, Class and Shelter.  Elizabeth Collins Cromley and Carter L Hudgins, Eds . Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005.

Explores differences between the intended and actual use of space in one large tract housing development from the 1950s. Complicates the story of conformity in suburbia by pointing out modifications to planners’designs.  Suggests the needs to look at not only prescriptive but descriptive accounts of suburban life. 

Baxandall, Rosalyn and Elizabeth Ewen. Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened.  New York: Basic Books, 2000.

This book offers a revised picture of suburbs and suburban living that presents it as more complex and less conformist than most accounts would lead readers to conclude. Their argument is that suburbia is “a complicated place, long shaped by conflict and community activism.” Relying heavily on the voices of suburbanites themselves, the authors tease out the motivations and activities (including activism) that marked the lives of suburbanites in three Long Island suburbs from the 1950s – 1970s (predominately white Levittown, African American Roosevelt, and integrated Freeport).

Benson, Susan Porter. Counter Cultures: Saleswomen, Managers, and Customers in American Department Stores, 1890-1940. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

This important work links the history of department stores, women’s role in the workforce and changes in American consumption patterns in the early 20th century. Helps explain the cultural contexts behind why and how department stores operated and were designed the way they were in their heyday. Useful for establishing the structure and practice of consumption (especially within a gendered framework) that the Post WWII shopping center model both referred to and challenged.

Browne, Lynn Elaine and Steven Sass. “The Transition from a Mill-Based to a Knowledge-Based Economy: New England, 1940-2000. In Peter Temin ed. Engines of Enterprise: An Economic History of New England. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Essay traces the ways in which New England reinvented itself after WWII from a region exporting tangible goods such as cotton and machine tools, to a region exporting and producing less-tangible goods and services like education and software.

Cohen, Lizabeth.  A Consumers Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.

A comprehensive examination of how consumer culture has shaped the social,political, and physical landscape of contemporary America.

Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. (1992). New York: Basic Books, reprint edition 2000.

Close look at some of the most enduring myths about the 1950s which challenges the notion that the decade was an idyllic golden age. Argues persuasively that many of the most oft-citied trends from the “good ol’ days” were in fact brand new historical phenomena – from stay-at home mothers, to young age at marriage, to “traditional” nuclear families.

Davis, Mike.  City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles. London: Verso, 1990.

Mike Davis explores the numerous social phobias and racial prejudices that transformed public spaces in Los Angles into Fortress L.A., a collection of privatized commercial and residential security zones.

Davis, Mike.  Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt, 1998.

 This book examines the interplay between the natural and built environment in Southern California and provides a provocative look at the social construction of fear and disaster in post-World War II America.

Dolgon, Corey.  The End of the Hamptons: Scenes From the Class Struggle in America’s Paradise. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

Social and economic class divisions in America are as real as they are glossed over by politicians and the mass media.  Dolgon provides a fascinating look at the dual realities of life for the fabulously rich and the working poor in New York’s most exclusive exurban playground.

Ehrenhalt, Alan. The Lost City: Discovering the Forgotten Virtues of Community in the Chicago of the 1950s.New York: Basic Books, 1995.

This exploration of the challenges and rewards of life in 1950s America focuses on three neighborhoods in Chicago and highlights the ways in which community ideals and communal experiences developed in the midst of restrictions and limited liberties in each one. Ehrenhalt compares an ethnic, working class, Catholic neighborhood,   “Bronzeville”, an African American neighborhood, and a middle class suburb.

Gans, Herbert.  The Urban Villagers: Group and Class Life of Italian-Americans. New York: Free Press, Macmillan, 1962.

Ever wonder why Boston’s Government Center looks like a post apocalyptic nightmare? Noted sociologist Herbert Gans examines the destruction of this once vibrant urban  neighborhood, known as the West End, by civic leaders and social scientists who viewed it as a breeding ground for social deviants and frustrated seekers of middle-class status in need of rejuvenation from high rise apartments, parking lots, and monumental government buildings.

Gans, Herbert. J.  The Levittowners: How People Live and Politic in Suburbia. New York:  Pantheon Books, 1967.

A remarkable examination of why people moved to suburbia in the immediate post- World War II era and had difficulty dealing with conflict, cultural pluralism, and forging meaningful relationships between themselves and other members of American society.

Gans, Herbert J. “Urbanism and Suburbanism as Ways of Life: A Reevaluation of Definitions.”In Philip Kasinitz, ed. Metropolis: Center and Symbol of Our Times. New York: New York University Press, 1995.  Originally published in Herbert J. Gans, People, Plans, and Policies. New York: Columbia University Press and Russell Sage Foundation, 1991).

An excellent overview of how social scientists since the heyday of the Chicago School of Sociology in the early twentieth century have conceptualized cities, suburbs, and  metropolitan life in general.

Garreau, Joel.  Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. New York: Anchor, Double Day, 1991.

A provocative look from the noted author of The Nine Nations of North America (1981) at the development of so-called “edge cities,” or “technoburbs” that currently encircle America’s traditional central cities.

Gillette, Howard, Jr. “The Evolution of the Planned Shopping Center in Suburb and City.” Journal of the American Planning Association 51(4) (1985): 449-460.

Brief Article tracing the history of shopping centers. Highlights the ways planners attempted to link physical design to social reform. Points to ways in which strategies developed in the suburbs have been used to revitalize urban retailing areas.

Hayden, Delores. Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003.

A highly readable, comprehensive critical look at the history of suburban development and the real estate industry responsible for it by one of America’s leading scholars on   the topic. Identifies seven historic patterns of suburban development: borderlands   and picturesque enclaves of 19th century; streetcar suburbs of the late 19th and early 20th c; mail order and self-built suburbs of 1910-1940; tract housing subdivisions; edge cities and rural fringe sprawl. This book also considers the suburb’s future and ways to limit suburban growth.

Jackson, Kenneth T.  Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

The most popular chronicle of the history of American suburbs.  Thorough, well-documented, and widely available, this book is an excellent source for any investigation of post-World War II American life.

Kelly, Barbara. Expanding the American Dream: Building and Rebuilding Levittown.  Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Kelly moves beyond the initial years of Levittown’s creation to focus on the ways in which owners of Levittown houses altered and reshaped the planned community to meet their changing needs. A refreshing look at the transformation suburban life after the initial boom of the 1950s.

Kennedy, Lawrence W.  Planning the City Upon a Hill: Boston Since 1630.Amherst, MA:   University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

A thorough overview of Boston’s spatial development that pays particular attention to those political leaders and public policies which have brought about the city’s most notable features.

Kunstler, James Howard.  The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape. New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

A critical examination of contemporary suburban sprawl where every place looks like no place in particular at the expense of vibrant urban centers and the rural countryside.

Lewis, Tom. Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life. New York: Viking (Penguin), 1999.

A readable account of the history and creation of the Federal Highway system which   dramatically altered 20th century American life.

May, Elaine Tyler.  Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. New York: Basic Books, 1988.

A overview of family life in post-World War II American that challenges popular notions of the conservative consensus that dominated the nation during the Cold War.

McGirr, Lisa.  Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. Princeton University Press, 2001.

Winner of the 2001 New England Historical Association Book Award, McGirr provides a fascinating overview of the national impact that the politically conservative suburb of  Orange County, California has had on American culture.

Eric H. Monkkonen. America Becomes Urban: The Development of U.S. Cities and Towns, 1780-1980. University of California Press, 1988.

Takes issue with critiques and analysis offered by Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs while placing U.S. cities in their historical context.

Palen, John J.  The Suburbs. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

A brief yet comprehensive and thought provoking overview of suburban life in the United States.

Porter, Michael. “The Competitive Advantage of the Inner City,” Harvard Business Review  73 May/June 1995): 55-71.

This highly influential article stresses the unique economic and geographic advantages of inner city neighborhoods and argues that rather than spending large amounts of public money on social programs, governments should encourage appropriate business to invest in the talents and resources of people living in disadvantaged neighborhoods located near central business districts.

Sugrue, Thomas J.  The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.  Princeton University Press, 1996.

Winner of the 1998 Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy (and several other prestigious awards), this book is perhaps the best description of racial conflict in a  major American city during the post-World War II era.

Teaford, Jon C.  The Rough Road to Renaissance: Urban Revitalization in America, 1940-1985. Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

In this valuable sourcebook, Teaford provides a critical assessment of important government policies and political movements that sought to rejuvenate American cities.

Teaford, Jon C. The Twentieth-Century American City. 2nd ed. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Teaford traces the perception of urban problems and the search for solutions from the turn of the century through the present, and examines the ways in which urban realities have stymied social planning. This second edition brings the story of urban America up to date through the early 1990s, with an analysis of attempts to revive aging central cities, and a look at a new form of development known as technoburbs.

Weise, Andrew. “The Other Suburbanites: African American Suburbanization in the North Before 1950,” Journal of American History 85 (March 1999): 1495-1524.

A fascinating case study of how Chagrin Falls Park, located just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, was developed by individual property owners who were overlooked by real estate developers that catered to more affluent white families.

Zukin, Sharon. “Whose Culture? Whose City?” The Cultures of Cities Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

Zukin asks critical questions often overlooked by social commentators and journalists as to who benefits the most from contemporary urban renewal.  By examining the renovation of New York City’s Bryant Park during the 1990s, Zukin is clear that the  values and agenda of large corporations and their middle class patrons shape the privatization of public space in the name of civic improvement.

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Primary Sources – Print

General

American Social Classes in the 1950s: Selections from Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers. Edited with and Introduction by Daniel Horowitz. New York: Bedford St Martin’s Press, 1995.

Horowitz has edited this abridged edition of journalist Vance Packard’s important 1959 work The Status Seekers. In his critical assessment of the Post War era, Packard   uses a range of data to argue that numerous aspects of post war society (from credit to television) were contributing to social apathy and increasingly rigid class boundaries. As a result Americans were turning to the acquisition of goods/status symbols to find personal fulfillment.  Horowitz’s introduction assesses both the successes and             shortcomings of this argument. Online discussion guide for this book can be found at http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/usingseries/hovey/horowitz.htm

Burgess, Ernest W.  “The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project.” Robert Park et al. The City. University of Chicago, 1925.

Burgess, a pioneer in urban research and member of the famed Chicago School of  Sociology, examines the relationship between space, behavior, and social mobility in the metropolitan setting with his concentric zone model, perhaps the most famous diagram in all of social science.  His work is essential in understanding why civic leaders, urban planners, business leaders, and social scientists targeted inner cities and thriving ethnic neighborhoods for destruction after the Second World War.

Howard, Ebenezer. “Author’s Introduction” and “The Town and Country Magnet.”

Garden Cities of To-morrow (Being the Second Edition of To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, 1898).  London: S. Sonnenschein & Company, 1902.

Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City model is one of the earliest examples of regional planning and a precursor to twentieth century attempts to merge the best parts of urban and rural life together in a planned utopia.

Jacobs, Jane.  The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1961.

This book is one of the most compelling critiques of the post-war American mindset that saw cities as inherently deviant and in need of massive demolition and reconstruction. Although 44 years old, many insights in this book remain fresh and serve today as the basis of so-called “new urbanism.”

Newsweek. “Suburbia—Exurbia—Urbia: Newsweek’s Editors Explore NEW AMERICA.” Newsweek, 1 April 1957: 35-42.

An excellent example of how journalists interpreted the social and political impact burgeoning suburbs.

Autobiography and Fiction


Hansberry, Lorraine. Raisin in the Sun (1959)

This accessible play offers a searching look at interplay between race, class, and economic mobility through an African-American family’s attempt to achieve the  “American Dream” and leave their inner-city Chicago neighborhood. 

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Viking Press, 1957.

The classic manifesto of the Beat generation.  Lowell, Massachusetts native Jack Kerouac provides a lively and, at times, brutally honest view of post-war life that is decidedly not suburban or dedicated to extolling the virtues of corporate capitalism and political conformity.

Lewis, Sinclair. Babbitt. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1922.

Although written decades before the Second Word War, this fascinating look at life in the fictitious city of Zenith illustrates social and demographic trends which were to typify America in the mid- to late twentieth century.

MacDonald, Michael Patrick.  All Souls: A Family Story from Southie. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.

This autobiography is a heartfelt look at family life for working-class Irish Catholics in  Boston, Massachusetts from the early 1970s through the 1990s.  MacDonald’s account of growing up in Southie is in stark contrast to dominant media images and racial  stereotypes that associate crime, drug abuse, female headed-households, and welfare  dependence with poor African Americans.  His efforts to rehabilitate Southie are both  inspiring and timely as long as White Bulger remains one of America’s most wanted criminals.

Yates, Richard.  Revolutionary Road. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1961.

Set in post-war Manhattan and Connecticut, this novel illustrates social and personal conflicts that beset a young couple bored with the complacency of corporate America and family life in a sleepy suburb.

Primary Sources – Movies/ Video Recordings

The City (1939)

One of the most powerful and influential indictments of urban life ever filmed.  The underlying message of this classic documentary is that cities have gotten out of hand and that we must return to the close-knit democracy of old New England.  Funded by the Regional Plan Association from an outline by Pare Lorentz, with comments by Lewis Mumford and music by Aaron Copeland, the underlying assumptions of this documentary help explain migration to the suburbs and disastrous attempts at urban renewal after the Second World War.  Available free of charge at www.archive.org.

In the Suburbs (1957)

Produced for Redbook magazine to illustrate to the vast spending power of the new and growing demographic of suburban families, this advertising and sales promotional film depicts the daily life and consumption habits of young adults with special emphasis on children and leisure.  Available free of charge at www.archive.org.

Pleasantville (1998)

A humorous yet critical look back at the underling conservative message of black and white family television from the 1950s and early 1960s, such as Father Knows Best and Leave It To Beaver, through the eyes of contemporary suburban youth.  Staring Tobey McGuire, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Reese Whiterspoon and many others; directed by Gary Ross.

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Websites and Web Resources
Compiled and annotated by SALEM in History staff


Ad* Access

Ad*Access is one of the collections of Duke University's Digital Scriptorim. It presents images and database information for over 7,000 advertisements printed in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines between 1911 and 1955. Ad*Access concentrates on five main subject areas: Radio, Television, Transportation, Beauty and Hygiene, and World War II, providing a coherent view of a number of major campaigns and companies through images preserved in one particular advertising collection available at Duke University. The ads can be viewed by subject or searched by either keyword (in headlines, product names etc.) or a set number of special features such as the presence of children or minorities or even coupons. Of particular interest for this topic are the large number of advertisements for consumer products from the post-World War II period.

American Memory: Historical Collections for the National Digital Library
Library of Congress

American Memory, a major component of the Library of Congress' National Digital Library Program, is an online archive of over 8 million sources related to American history and culture from 1490 to the 20th century. Sources on American Memory are organized into over 120 multimedia collections and 150 specific websites, which include digitized documents, photographs, recorded sound, moving pictures, and text from the Library's rich American collections and, in some cases, from archives and libraries around the world. Of particular interest for this topic is the collection entitled Fifty Years of Coca-Cola Television Advertisements: Highlights from the Motion Picture Archives at the Library of Congress (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ccmphtml/colahome.html). This digital video collection presents a variety of television advertisements, never-broadcast outtakes, and experimental footage reflecting the historical development of television advertising for a major commercial product.

Evolution of the Shopping Center

Photos and timeline by the History Department of the University of San Diego about the history of shopping centers in America. Note: this site mentions the Northshore Shopping Center, but erroneously states that it was erected in Beverly, MA in the 1940s. Beverly was the original planned site for the center, but due to zoning issues was never built there.

Historic Cost-of-Living Calculator

Calculate the purchasing power of money in any year from 1665 to 2003.

History Matters: The History Survey Course on the Web

A superb and highly-respected resource for teachers and students in U.S. History survey courses; offers not only primary sources but source analysis tutorials and a rich set of links. Includes three centrally important sections: WWW. History offers a searchable list of and annotations for over 700 high quality websites; Many Pasts which contains over 1,000 primary sources covering the broad sweep of American History and represents a range of source types and Making Sense of Evidence which offers detailed, in depth, and interactive explorations into how historians analyze, interpret, and various types of sources including maps, letters, films and oral history. Of particular interest for this topic is a web guide entitled “Making Sense of Advertisements” (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/Ads/) by history professor and author Daniel Pope. This guide offers an overview of advertisements as historical sources and how historians use them, a brief history of advertising, questions to ask when interpreting ads as historical evidence, an annotated bibliography, and a guide to finding advertisements online.

Levittown: Documents of an Ideal American Suburb
University of Illinois, Chicago

A cultural history of Levittown written by Peter Bacon Hales in the art history department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Route 128/ABC (Historic Overview)
Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce

 A website devoted to detailing the history of the highway we now know as 128. Chronicles its inception, growth and slow development from the first whispers of a circumferential road around Boston in 1912 through to its current form today. Discusses the relationship between this project and Federal highway projects; mentions the involvement of governor Leverett Saltonstall, and ties the rapid growth of 128 project in the post WWII years to suburbanization. Includes some historic photos. At the end of the historic overview is a list of the sources used to compile it. This list could be used to identify primary sources for classroom use.

Northgate Shopping Mall Opens on April 21, 1950
History Link.org

This article is part of a project to create an online Encyclopedia of Washington State History. Details the opening of the nation’s first regional shopping center to be defined specifically as a “MALL”. Includes historic photos.

Tupperware!
American Experience

This website is designed as an accompaniment to the PBS film Tupperware! and offers insights into topics in American history including the post-World War II economy, advances in plastics technology and manufacturing, direct selling and business history, women's changing roles in society, women and work, social networks, consumer culture, the American Dream, and the Cold War. The site includes a teachers guide, (links to history, economics, civics, geography) digital video advertisements from the 1950s, additional primary source, resource links, and an interview with historian and author Elaine Taylor May.

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Related Archives and Collections

--none cited at this time--

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Other
Compiled and annotated by Steven Corey, Ph.D., Professor of Urban Studies, Worcester State College (scorey@worcester.edu) and SALEM in History staff


Music


“Little Houses” words and music by Malvina Reynolds (1962)

Song that spoke to millions of Americans about the challenges and potential negative impact of post-WWII suburbanization and social change. Recording available on CD “Malvina Reynolds: Ear to the Ground” by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Movies / Video Recordings

The City(1939)

One of the most powerful and influential indictments of urban life ever filmed.  The underlying message of this classic documentary is that cities have gotten out of hand and that we must return to the close-knit democracy of old New England.  Funded by the Regional Plan Association from an outline by Pare Lorentz, with comments by Lewis Mumford and music by Aaron Copeland, the underlying assumptions of this documentary help explain migration to the suburbs and disastrous attempts at urban renewal after the Second World War.  Available free of charge at www.archive.org.

In the Suburbs (1957)

Produced for Redbook magazine to illustrate to the vast spending power of the new and growing demographic of suburban families, this advertising and sales promotional film depicts the daily life and consumption habits of young adults with special emphasis on children and leisure.  Available free of charge at www.archive.org.

Raisin in the Sun (1961)

This movie adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's play is a marvelous example of the interplay between race, class, and economic mobility through an African-American family’s attempt to achieve the “American Dream” and leave their inner-city Chicago neighborhood.  Staring Sidney Poitier and directed by Daniel Petrie.

Avalon (1990)

Writer-director Barry Levinson provides a compelling and amusing tale about anextended group of immigrants who arrive in Baltimore, Maryland and achieve economic and social mobility, in part, by moving from one urban neighborhoods to another and then eventually the suburbs.

Pleasantville (1998)

A humorous yet critical look back at the underling conservative message of black and white family television from the 1950s and early 1960s, such as Father Knows Best and Leave It To Beaver, through the eyes of contemporary suburban youth.  Staring Tobey McGuire, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Reese Whiterspoon and many others; directed by Gary Ross.

Tupperware! (2003)
Laurie Kahn-Leavitt (Producer, Writer, Director)

Award-winning documentary film by Laurie Kahn-Leavitt (“A Midwife’s Tale”) tracing the growth and success of Tupperware and “Tupperware ladies” within multiple contexts of post WWII America (consumption, gender roles, economic/industrial growth). “Narrated by Kathy Bates, this funny, thought-provoking film reveals the secret behind Tupperware's success: the women of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds who discovered they could move up in the world without leaving the house. Tupperware! charts the origins of the small plastics company that unpredictably became a cultural phenomenon.It all began with the unlikely partnership of Earl Silas Tupper, a reclusive small-town inventor, and Brownie Wise, a self-taught marketing whiz. At a time when women, who had been celebrated for working in factories during World War II, were being pushed back to the kitchen, Wise showed them how to defy the limitations they faced by starting up their own businesses -- based in their kitchens.” (from Tupperware! website http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/tupperware/)


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