We are what we consume. Our economies live or die by spending, and we define ourselves by our possessions. This ever-richer lifestyle has had a profound impact on our planet. How have we come to live with so much stuff?
In this lecture, Frank Trentmann unfolds the extraordinary rise of this Empire of Things, from Renaissance Italy and late Ming China to today’s global economy. He examines how consuming became an ever-increasing and integral part of modern life. And he asks about the lessons we can learn from this history for our own era of rising inequality and climate change. Is a new sharing culture and minimalism replacing our love of possessions?
Frank Trentmann is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London, and also at the Consumer Society Research Centre, University of London. In 2018 he was awarded the Humboldt-Research Prize for his seminal work. Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (Penguin 2016) won the Austrian Science Book Prize in 2018.