Date of Award
Master of Arts
Robert S. Smith, Greg Carter
African American, Childhood, Consumerism, Nineteenth Century, Popular Culture, Scrapbook
Commercial and social trends of the Gilded Age combined to give a unique and novel power to colorful advertising trade cards that were collected, exchanged, and preserved in scrapbooks by middle-class children living in the Northeast. These children were members of one of the earliest generations to grow up with mandatory co-educational schooling and to be part of a distinctive youth culture created through peer interactions. After 1876, advertising trade cards became ubiquitous and were a significant component of that peer culture. The cards were also innovative in that they were the first example of colored images to be made available to the public at no direct cost. For the children who amassed collections of advertising trade cards, the ephemera were meant to function as "object lessons," a pedagogical practice of the late-nineteenth century that taught through observation of actual objects or images of things. By viewing their advertising trade card collections, children were educated about the world as they studied the images present on their cards. What the pages within the scrapbooks created by Gilded Age children reveal are pedagogies that taught them to desire brand-named goods, to self-identify as a consumer, and to understand the value of certain products available in the burgeoning consumer marketplace. The advertisements also disseminated caricatures of African Americans and instilled racist notions of blackness and black people through stereotyped images. The selection and arrangement of such cards in scrapbooks indicate that young collectors were familiar and comfortable with notions of white superiority. As revealed in his memoir, W. E. B. Du Bois was just one victim of the "othering" of black people that these images facilitated. An understanding of how Du Bois and other Gilded Age children like him were indoctrinated into both consumerism and racism against African Americans suggests some reasons for turn of the century social outcomes as well as highlights the importance of the history of children more broadly.
Schultz, Jaclyn, "Discriminating Tastes: How Advertisements Taught Consumerism and Race to Gilded Age Youths" (2013). Theses and Dissertations. 157.