According to critics, history resides at an intellectual crossroads. They charge that scholars rely too heavily on ill-defined concepts-like agency-and under-appreciate the determination force of the capitalist consumer economy. This essay appraises the key themes, methods, questions, and conclusions contained within recent US history. While consumer agency looms large in many works, consumer studies also explore the influence of structural economics, material goods, and institutions that shaped consumer behavior. Moreover, distinct periodization is important in recognizing and understanding the shifting contours of American consumption. This article appraises how recent scholarship in rural consumer culture relates to these broad categories and what this reveals about rural history in general. In the end, this paper probes the central challenge posed to historians by the notions of consumer choice and agency.

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