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May 26 , 2011

Commerce in Color

Race, Consumer Culture, and American Literature, 1893-1933


Commerce in Color exploresthe juncture of consumer culture and race by examining advertising, literary texts, mass culture, and public events in the United States from 1893 to 1933. James C. Davis takes up a remarkable range of subjects—including the crucial role publishers Boni and Liveright played in the marketing of Harlem Renaissance literature, Henry James’s critique of materialism in The American Scene, and the commodification of racialized popular culture in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of anEx-Colored Man—as he argues that racial thinking was central to the emergence of U.S. consumerism and, conversely, that an emerging consumer culture was a key element in the development of racial thinking and the consolidation of racial identity in America. By urging a reassessment of the familiar rubrics of the “culture of consumption” and the “culture of segregation,” Dawson poses new and provocative questions about American culture and social history.

Both an influential literary study and an absorbing historical read, Commerce in Color proves that—in America—advertising, publicity, and the development of the modern economy cannot be understood apart from the question of race.

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“A welcome addition to existing scholarship, Davis’s study of the intersection of racial thinking and the emergence of consumer culture makes connections very few scholars have considered.”

—James Smethurst, University of Massachusetts

James C. Davis is Assistant Professor of English at Brooklyn College.
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