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Professor Frank Trentmann

B.A. History (First), MA and PhD Harvard University (History)

Professor of History

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room 1.05
28 Russell Square

Office Hours: by appointment

Tel: 020 7079 0603


  • Full curriculum vitae.
  • Frank Trentmann was made Professor of History at Birkbeck in 2007. He has been at Birkbeck since 2000, after teaching as Assistant Professor at Princeton University. He was the principal investigator of the AHRC project “material cultures of energy” (2014-17), and also a member of the multidisciplinary EPSRC – ESRC research centre DEMAND (Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand).
  • He was the director of the £ 5 million Cultures of Consumption research programme, co-funded by the ESRC and the AHRC. He has also been Fernand Braudel Senior Fellow at the European University Institute, as well as a Visiting Professor at Bielefeld University (Germany), the British Academy, and at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris. In 2014, he was Moore Distinguished Fellow at Caltech. In 2017, he was awarded the Humboldt Prize for Research (Humboldt-Forschungspreis) by the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation. In 2018, he was the recipient of the Austrian Science Book Prize for Empire of Things/Herrschaft der Dinge.
  • His recent work has been on morality, consumption, materiality, energy and everyday life. He has also published on political culture, political economy, and civil society in modern history.

Research and teaching

  • Introduction
    • Why do we consume as much and the way we do? What are the historical dynamics that have shaped our material lifestyles? And what have its consequences for power, identity, ethics and everyday life?
    • Why and how changed their moral actions and their sense of good and bad?
  • Research interests
    • History of energy and daily life
    • History of consumption
    • History of morality
  • Teaching interests
    • BA Modern Britain
    • BA Modern World; BA Contemporary World
    • MA courses on Consumption in History; Globalization
  • PhD supervision
  • I have been, or currently am, supervising dissertations on:
    • Silk in Early Modern London
    • Brewers, Temperance and Drinking Fountains in 19th Century England
    • Advertising and British Society, 1900-39
    • The Sport shoe in the 20th century
    • Missionaries and Statistics in the British Empire
    • Architecture and Material Culture in Ibadan, Nigeria
    • The Decline of Merchant Banks in early 20th century Britain
    • Consultants and the British State


  • Books
  • Infrastructures in Practice: the Evolution of Demand in Networked Societies (London: Routledge, 2018, with Elizabeth Shove
  • Work in Progress: Economy and Environment in the Hand of Experts (Munich: oekom, 2018, with Anna Barbara Sum and Manuel Rivera)
  • Materielle Kultur und Energiekonsum: Verbraucher und ihre Rolle für eine nachhaltige Entwicklung (oekom: Munich, 2016; Carl-von-Carlowitz-Reihe, Band 5Wissenschaftliche Vorlesungen zur Nachhaltigkeit, herausgegeben vom Rat für Nachhaltige Entwicklung), 68 pages (Material Culture and Energy Consumption: the Role of Consumers for Sustainable Development - Carl-von-Carlowitz-Series, lecture 5, Council for Sustainable Development, Germany).
  • Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First, (London: Allen Lane/Penguin; New York: HarperCollins 2016); German edition: Herrschaft der Dinge (Munich: DVA); Italian edition: L'impero delle cose (Rome: Einaudi); Russian, Chinese and Taiwanese editions forthcoming. For articles, media and reviews see:
  • Free Trade Nation: Consumption, Civil Society and Commerce in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Whitfield Prize, Royal Historical Society.
  • The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption, editor (Oxford University Press, 2012).
  • Elizabeth Shove, Frank Trentmann and Richard Wilk (eds), Time, Consumption, and Everyday Life (Oxford: Berg, 2009).
  • Is Free Trade Fair? New Perspectives on the World Trading System, editor (Smith Institute, London 2009).
  • Food and Globalization: Consumption, Markets and Politics in the Modern World, edited with Alexander Nützenadel, (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2008).
  • Governance, Citizens, and Consumers: Agency and Resistance in Contemporary Politics, edited with Mark Bevir, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
  • Beyond Sovereignty: Britain, Empire, and Transnationalism, c. 1860-1950, edited with Kevin Grant and Philippa Levine, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
  • Citizenship and Consumption, edited with Kate Soper, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
  • Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives: Historical Trajectories, Transnational Exchanges, edited with John Brewer, (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2006).
  • The Making of the Consumer: Knowledge, Power and Identity in the Modern World (Editor), (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2006).
  • Food and Conflict in Europe in the Age of the Two World Wars, edited with Flemming Just, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
  • Civil Society: A Reader in History, Theory and Global Politics (edited with John A. Hall), (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
  • Worlds of Political Economy: Knowledge and Power in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (edited with Martin J Daunton), (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
  • Markets in Historical Contexts: Ideas and Politics in the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), co-edited with Mark Bevir (Chinese edition in press).
  • Critiques of Capital in Modern Britain and America: Transatlantic Exchanges, co-edited with Mark Bevir (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).
  • Paradoxes of Civil Society: New Perspectives on Modern German and British History, (Editor), (Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2003, 2nd rev. paperback edition. 1st edition 2000).
  • Articles and chapters
  • 'Getting to grips with energy: fuel, materiality and daily life' in Science Museum Group Journal 9 (spring 2018), guest editor of special issue
  • 'The Evolution of Energy Demand Revisited: Politics, Daily Life and Public Housing in Britain, 1920s-70s’ in The Historical Journal, on-line open access Nov 2017, print version: 2018 (lead author; co-authored with Anna Carlsson-Hyslop)
  • 'Paths, Detours, and Connections: Consumption and Its Contribution to Latin American History’ (with Ana Maria Otero-Cleves), in Special Journal Issue for Historica Critica: Historia del consumo, no. 65, July-Sept 2017, pp 13-28
  • ‘Liquid Politics: Water and the Politics of Everyday Life in the Modern City’ (with Vanessa Taylor), Past & Present, no. 211 (May 2011), pp. 199-241.
  • ‘The Odd Couple: Consumption and Civil Society’, Recherches Britanniques: Société, culture, politique en Grande-Bretagne du 18ème au 21ème siècle, Vol. I – numéro 1 (2011), pp. 37-51.
  • ‘Consumer Society – RIP’, Contemporary European History 20/1 (2011), pp. 27-31.
  • ‘Crossing Divides: Consumption and Globalization in History’ Journal of Consumer Culture 9/2 (2009), pp. 187-220.
    • Reprinted in: The Routledge International Handbook of Globalisation Studies, ed. Bryan S. Turner. (New York: Routledge, 2010), pp. 447-69.
  • ‘Materiality in the Future of History: Things, Practices, and Politics’ Journal of British Studies, 48/2 (April 2009), pp. 283-307.
  • ‘The Long History of Contemporary Consumer Society: Chronologies, Practices, and Politics in Modern Europe’, Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 49 (2009), pp. 107-28.
    • Reprinted in Consumption, ed. Alan Warde, Sage Benchmarks in Culture & Society (2010), vol. 2, ch. 20.
  • ‘Drought is Normal: The Socio-Technical Evolution of Drought and Water Demand in England and Wales, 1893-2006’, Journal of Historical Geography 35 (2009), pp. 568-91, with Vanessa Taylor, Heather Chappells, and Will Medd.
  • ‘Before “Fair Trade”: Empire, Free Trade, and the Moral Economies of Food in the Modern World’, in Environment and Planning D, 2007, Vol. 25(6) 1079-1102.
    • Short version reprinted in Food and Globalization, eds. A. Nützenadel and F. Trentmann.
  • ‘Introduction: Citizenship and Consumption’, special issue for Journal of Consumer Culture, (editor), Vol. 7(2) (2007), pp. 147-158.
  • ‘The Politics of Necessity’, special issue for Journal of Consumer Policy, edited with Bronwen Morgan, Vol. 29(4) (2006), pp. 345-35.
  • ‘Beyond Consumerism: New Historical Perspectives on Consumption’, in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 39(3) (2004), pp. 373-401. Reprinted in Consumer Behaviour I: Research and Influences, ed. Margaret Hogg, (London: Sage, 2005), pp. 303-329. Reprinted in Consumption, ed. Alan Warde, Sage Benchmarks in Culture & Society (2010)
  • ‘Social Justice and Modern Capitalism: British Critiques, Traditions, and Practices’. A special journal issue for the International Society for the Study of European Ideas, The European Legacy, VI, 2 (London: Taylor and Francis, 2001). Co-edited and introduced with Mark Bevir.
  • ‘Political Culture and Political Economy’, Review of International Political Economy, 5:2 (1998), pp. 217-251.
  • ‘Wealth versus Welfare: the British Left between Free Trade and National Political Economy before the First World War’, Historical Research, LXX, 171 (1997), pp. 70-98.
  • ‘The Transformation of Fiscal Reform: Reciprocity, Modernization, and the Fiscal Debate within the Business Community in Early Twentieth-Century Britain’, Historical Journal, XXXIX, 4 (1996), pp. 1005-48.
  • ‘New Sources on an Old Family: The Rothschild Papers at the Special Archive, Moscow’, Financial History Review, 2 (1995), pp. 73-9.
  • ‘Civilisation and its Discontents: English Neo-romanticism and the Transformation of Anti-Modernism in Twentieth-Century Western Culture’, Journal of Contemporary History, XXIX (1994), pp. 583-625.
  • Chapters:
  • 'Material Histories of the World: Scales and Dynamics’in: History after Hobsbawm: Writing the Past for the Twenty-First Century, eds. J. Arnold, M. Hilton and J. Rueger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)
  • 'The road to the 21st century consumer: A historical perspective,’ in: The 21st Century Consumer: Vulnerable, Responsible, Transparent?, eds. Christian Bala and Wolfgang Schuldzinski (Proceedings of the International Conference on Consumer Research (ICCR), Düsseldorf; 2017)
  • ‘The Lessons of War: Reordering the Public and Private Capacities and Dynamics of Consumption’ in: The Consumer on the Home Front: Second World War Civilian Consumption in Transnational Perspective, eds. Hartmut Berghoff, Jan Logemann, and Felix Römer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 331-56
  • ‘Unstoppable: Consumption after the Boom – Resilience, Adaptation and Renewal’ in Vorgeschichte der Gegenwart: Dimensionen des Strukturbruchs nach dem Boom, eds. Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, Lutz Raphael, Thomas Schlemmer (Göttingen, 2016), pp. 293-307
  • ‘Moving Paradoxes: Materials, People and Ethics in a World in Flux’, in: Moving Around: People, Things and Practices in Consumer Culture, eds. H. Shin, S. Majima and Y. Tanaka (Tokyo, 2015), pp. 17-25.
  • ‘Sustainable consumption in history: ideas, resources and practices’ (with Heather Chappells) in: Handbook of Research on Sustainable Consumption, eds. Lucia A. Reisch and John Thøgersen (Cheltenham, 2015), pp. 51-70.
  • ‘Past and Present: Historical Perspectives on Inequality and Collective Provision in Modern Consumption’, in: Dale Southerton and Alistair Ulph (eds.), Sustainable Consumption (Oxford, 2014) , pp. 243-76.
  • ‘Political History Matters: Everyday Life, Things and Practices’, in: Willibald Steinmetz, Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey, Heinz-Gerhard Haupt (eds.), Writing Political History Today (Frankfurt/Main, 2013), pp. 397-408.
  • ‘Consumer Society Revisited: Affluence, Choice and Diversity,’ in: Ralph Jessen and Lydia Langer (eds.), Transformations of retailing in Europe after 1945, (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 19-32.
  • ‘Consumers as Citizens: Tensions and Synergies’, in Beyond the Consumption Bubble, eds. Karin Ekström and Kay Glans (London: Routledge, 2011).
  • Multiple Spaces of Consumption: Some Historical Perspectives’, in Consuming Space: Placing Consumption in Perspective, eds. Michael Goodman, David Goodman and Michael Redclift (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 41-56.
  • ‘Crossing Divides: Consumption and Globalization in History’, in The Routledge International Handbook of Globalisation Studies, ed. Bryan S. Turner. (New York: Routledge, 2010), pp. 447-69.
  • ‘Foreword’ to Consumption and Generational Change: The Rise of Consumer Lifestyles, eds. Ian Rees Jones, David Ekerdt, Paul Higgs (Transaction Publ., Edison, NJ, 2009), pp. vii – xii.
  • Le consommateur en tant que citoyen : synergies et tensions pour son bien-être et son engagement civique’/ ‘Consumers as Citizens: Synergies and Tensions for Well-Being and Civic Engagement’, in Consommation responsable et bien-être/ Responsible consumption for the well being of all, ed. Gilda Farrell (Strasbourg, Council of Europe publications, 2008), pp. 87-93 reprint in French and English of the chapter originally published in L’Economie politique, no. 39.
  • ‘Le consommateur en tant que citoyen: synergies et tensions entre bien-être et engagement civique’, in: L’Economie politique, no. 39 (July 2008), special issue: “Pour un nouveau modèle de consommation”, pp. 7-20.
  • ‘Kurze Unterbrechung -- Wir Entschuldigen die Störung: Zusammenbruch, Zaesur, und Zeitlichkeit im alltäglichen Konsum’, in Unterwegs in Europa – Beiträge zu einer pluralen europäischen Geschichte, eds. Christina Benninghaus, Sven Oliver Müller, Jörg Requate and Charlotte Tacke (Campus Verlag: 2008), pp. 219-45.
  • The Question of Culture Consumption and Stratification Revisited’, Comment, Sociologica 2/2008.
  • ‘The Evolution of the Consumer: Meanings, Identities and Political Synapses Before the Age of Affluence’, in The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia and the West, eds. Sheldon Garon and Patricia L. Maclachlan (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2006), pp. 21-44.
  • ‘Consumption’, in Europe since 1914: Encyclopaedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, edited by John Merriman and Jay Winter (Detroit: Charles Scribners Sons, 2006), volume 2, pp. 704-717.
  • ‘The Resurrection and Decomposition of Cobden in Britain and the West: An Essay in the Politics of Reputation’, in Rethinking Nineteenth-Century Liberalism: Richard Cobden Bicentenary Essays, eds. Anthony Howe and Simon Morgan (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), pp. 264-288.
  • ‘The "British" Sources of Social Power: Reflections on History, Sociology, and Intellectual Biography’, in An Anatomy of Power: The Social Theory of Michael Mann, eds. John A. Hall and Ralph Schroeder (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 285-305.
  • Interview, Economic Sociology, Vol. 7(2) (Feb. 2006).
  • ‘The Problem with Civil Society: Putting Modern European History Back into Contemporary Debate’, in Exploring Civil Society: Political and Cultural Contexts, eds. Marlies Glasius, David Lewis, and Hakan Seckinelgin, (London: Routledge, 2004), pp. 26-35.
  • ‘Vergangenheit, Zukunft, und die Inszenierung von Wirklichkeiten: Politische Ökonomie und Politische Kommunikation in Grossbritannien zu Beginn des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts’, in: Wirtschaftsgeschichte als Kulturgeschichte: Dimensionen eines Perspektivenwechsels, eds. Hartmut Berghoff and Jakob Vogel, (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2004), pp. 405-34. [‘Past, Future, and the Presentation of Realities: Political Economy and Political Communication in early twentieth century Britain’].
  • ‘Rolf Gardiner’, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), Vol. 21, pp. 427-29.
  • ‘E.M.H. Lloyd’, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), Vol. 34, pp. 119-121.
  • ‘Fiscal Politics 1688-1939: Taxation, Free Trade, and Tariff Reform’ in Reader’s Guide to British History, 2 vols., (London and New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003), Vol. 1, pp. 523-29.
  • ‘Leisure and Recreation,’ in Reader’s Guide to British History (London and New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003), Vol. 1, pp.798-802.
  • ‘National Identity and Consumer Politics: Free Trade and Tariff Reform’, in The Political Economy of British Historical Experience, 1688-1914, eds. Patrick O’Brien and Donald Winch (a collection of essays for the centenary of the British Academy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 215-242.
  • ‘Bread, Milk, and Democracy: Consumption and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century Britain’, in The Politics of Consumption: Material Culture and Citizenship in Europe and America, eds. Martin Daunton and Matthew Hilton (Oxford and New York: Berg , 2001), pp. 129-63.
  • ‘Civil Society, Commerce, and the "Citizen-Consumer": Popular Meanings of Free Trade in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain’, Center For European Studies (Harvard University), Working Paper Series, No. 66 (summer 1997).
  • ‘The Strange Death of Free Trade: the Erosion of  ‘Liberal Consensus’ in Great Britain, c.1903-32’ in Citizenship and Community: Liberals, Radicals and Collective Identities in the British Isles, 1865-1931, ed. E. Biagini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 219-250.


  • Interviews with:
    • Der Spiegel
    • Corporate Knights, the Magazine for Clean Capitalism
    • Die Welt
    • taz
    • Wiener Zeitung
    • ENORM magazine
  • Radio :
    • On Empire of Things and consumer culture:
    • BBC Forum (on consumerism), 16-19 January 2016.
    • Moncrieff – Newstalk (Ireland), 27 January 2016.
    • Newsday, BBC World Service, 2 February 2016.
    • BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed, 3 February 2016.
    • TRE – Talk Radio Europe, 4 February 2016.
    • Bloomberg Radio, 30 March 2016
    • NPR (National Public Radio), 30 March 2016
    • “This Way Up” (New Zealand), 30 March 2016
    • The Economist radio, April 2016
    • Monocle Weekly, April 2016
    • WAM/Northeast Public Radio, USA
    • WATR, Connecticut
    • Deutschlandfunk Kultur
    • Radio Bremen
    • WDR 3 Mosaik
    • WDR 5 Redezeit
    • BBC Radio 4 “Analysis”: (Spoilt by Choice?) 21 December 2006
    • “Thinking Allowed”, BBC Radio 4 (on Free Trade) 5 March 2008
  • TV:
    • BBC TV Ten O’Clock News: interview on consumerism. 27 September 2006,
    • TV Beijing News, interview on consumerism. August 2006,
    • "Dzień Dobry TVN", Poland's most popular morning show (February 2016)
    • "The Gadget Buzz", Ireland TV3 and e3 (April 2016)
    • Scobel (3sat, Germany, 2017)
  • Other:
    • "The End of Progress”, for “Unlimited” (UBS/Freuds), March 2017,
    • "Declutter your cupboard if you want, but it won’t save the planet; orig. published in The Guardian, 6 January 2017, p. 27
    • "How Humans Became 'Consumers': A History”, The Atlantic, 28 November 2016
    • “The Wealth of a Nation”, The Huffington Post, 12 July 2016
    • “The Future is Now” (with Rebecca Wright), article for the programme of the new play “Oil” by Ella Hickson, world premiere at Almeida Theatre, London, 7 Oct-26 Nov 2016
    • “The Material Self”, for “Unlimited” (UBS/Freuds), July 2016.
    • Repr. In The Changing Nature of Wealth (2016), ch. 3.
    • “Five Centuries of Stuff”, History Today, March 2016.
    • The Atlantic, “Those Wasteful Europeans”, 29 March 2016.
    • Shelf life – Books interview, Times Higher Education, 21 January 2016.
    • The Independent – “The Big Read", article "Hey, little spender”, 21 December 2015
    • ‘Dreaming of Kebap’, Neue Politische Literatur 58 (2013), pp. 209-16.
    • From World Power Conference to World Energy Council: 90 Years of Energy Cooperation, 1923-2013 (with Rebecca Wright and Hiroki Shin; World Energy Council: London, 2013).
    • “Grande-Bretagne: une unité menacée”, in Constructif, November 2012, no 33, special issue on “Radiographie des classes moyennes”.
    • Is Free Trade Fair? New Perspectives on the World Trading System (2009); a think-tank publication I edited for The Smith Institute; launched at the House of Lords on 27 January 2009. The Smith Institute is a think-tank founded in memory of the Labour leader John Smith. With contributions from Jagdish Bhagwati, Alan Winters, Frank Trentmann, Martin Daunton, Amrita Narlikar, H.-U. Petersman, Harriet Lamb and Ed Mayo.
    • November 2008 News Article on Globalization and Historical Lessons, for Syndicated International Press, via Project Syndicate, which appeared in 14 languages across the world
    • “Water Stress and Sustainability” (with Vanessa Taylor), BBC History Magazine, September 2008, pp. 18-19.
    • “When Free Trade Meant Democracy”, BBC History Magazine, March 2008, pp. 42-45.
    • 4 ½ Lessons About Consumption” (2007).
    • Hosepipes, history and a sustainable future” (with Vanessa Taylor), History & Policy (2008).
    • ‘Britain’s Caring Consumers’, in Britain Today: The State of the Nation in 2007 (Swindon: The Economic and Social Research Council, 2007).

Professional membership

  • Royal Historical Society

Current activities

  • I have just published my new book with Penguin, Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First. I am completing the research project "Material Cultures of Energy" for the AHRC as one of their large grants in the "Care for the Future" programme.
  • I am also a member of the EPSRC–ESRC research centre DEMAND (Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand).
  • I have started on a new book project, The Germans: A Moral History, 1943-2020, which tells the story of the German people from the Second World War to the present in order to understand their moral transformation.