“The Latest Novelties: New Goods and New Ideas in 19th-Century America”

Event Details:

Monday, April 15, 2024
11:20 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.
Rutgers–Camden, Campus Center, Multi-Purpose Room




While we are perpetually distracted by the latest things, from Instagram-generated fashion fads to the endlessly new products to be discovered on Temu, Americans weren’t always this way. At one time, we owned fewer possessions and held onto them for lifetimes, passing down pieces of furniture from one generation to the next, repairing household tools so they could be used again, and literally refashioning old clothes to conform to changing bodies and styles. So what changed? Why did Americans begin embracing new commodities during the long 19th century, buying things that were sometimes wholly unfamiliar and often unnecessary? This lecture will focus on the intersection of novelty and consumer culture from the late 18th through the 19th century, taking a closer look at people’s attitudes towards new products and new ideas. Novelty in this context can help us better understand important aspects of American life and culture, including the rapid expansion of capitalism, the growing tensions between urban and rural life, and people’s relative embrace or fear of innovation and change. Novelty can also help us better understand how we arrived at the ever-changing disposable culture we live in today

About Dr. Woloson:

Wendy A. Woloson joined the faculty of Rutgers-Camden in 2013, where she is now Professor of History. Her areas of interest are the histories of consumer culture, capitalism, underground economies, and visual and material culture. Her most recent book Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America (2021) has been translated into Korean and Chinese, and was a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle award in Criticism. Her current project focuses on the history of novelty and consumer goods.