History 246 Reading Guide

Discussion:  Women and the Culture of Consumption

  • Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar:  The Making of an American Beauty Culture (1998).


  • Note: do not be fooled by the subject or the cover. This is an analytical social history that addresses the experience of an inclusive group of American women, and that weaves together a number of threads that we've have been exploring over the course of the semester.
  • What surprised you about her account and her analysis?
  • What threads of the course does Peiss's study address? How does she weave them together?
  • How does "beauty culture" embody and illuminate ambiguities and ambivalence about womanhood, femininity, sexuality; class, ethnicity and race?
  • What optic does the history of beauty culture give us about the tension between public and private space, women's ability to negotiate these potentially gendered domains, and the different experiences of women according to race, ethnicity, class and location? Why does Peiss integrate the experiences of African-American women into her discussion in some instances, and separate their experiences at other times?
  • What eras and patterns of change over time does she describe?
  • What kinds of evidence does Peiss use? How does she work with the opportunities and limitations of her sources?
  • Whose side is she on?