Exotic Goods, Popular Consumption, andthe Standard of Living: Thinking about Globalization in the Early Modern World


Evidence that privileges processes of consumption over those of production is critical to a reevaluation of nineteenth-century global integration and European economic growth. The growing body of documentation provided by early modern household inventory studies, along with new research on the contours of European demand for both imported manufactures and locally produced imitations, suggests that the time is now ripe for just such a reevaluation. Particularly, the consumption of tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, porcelain, and silk and cotton textiles increased dramatically in western Europe beginning in the closing decades of the seventeenth century. Use of the new commodities spread rapidly, both in geographical and social space. A variety of household inventory studies from the Netherlands and England are used to document the presence of many of these so-called luxury goods by the working poor by the middle of the eighteenth century. European demand for these goods was fueled not only by the rich with their growing surplus incomes but also by the much more numerous lower and middling classes.