Susan Strasser

Richards Chaired Professor in History
Department of History
229 Munroe Hall

Susan Strasser is a professor in the Department of History and Senior Resident Scholar at the Hagley Museum and Library’s Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society. She teaches a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses on topics related to the histories of consumer culture, the environment, and industrialization, concentrating on the United States since 1865.

Her books include Never Done: A History of American Housework (1982), which won the Sierra Prize of the Western Association of Women Historians; Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market (1989); and Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash(1999), winner of the Abel Wolman Award from the Public Works Historical Society. She has also edited Commodifying Everything: Relationships of the Market (2003) and coeditedGetting and Spending: American and European Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press, (1998).

She is currently working on A Historical Herbal: Healing with Plants in a Developing Consumer Culture. In chapters organized around individual plants, the book will describe the culture and commerce of medicinal herbs in 19th and 20th century America, reflecting on industrial-era relationships with plants. As Americans increasingly solved problems by purchasing goods and services rather than by cultivating skills and knowledge, practitioners’ prescriptions coexisted with self-medication and herbal commerce with backyard medicine. Despite advertising, professionalism, effective chemical drugs, and government support for scientific medicine, folk practices survived, as did medicinal herb hunting, growing, wholesaling, and retailing. Herbal medicines were old-fashioned compared with new chemicals by the middle of the 19th century, and by its end self-dosing was under attack as quackery. Still, gardeners cultivated “mint for the tummy,” and local herbalists continued to practice. Plant healing persisted even as it got commodified, a representation of producer habits in consumer society and of consumer resistance to a commercializing medical system.

Professor Strasser studied at Reed College and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and has taught at The Evergreen State College, Princeton University, George Washington University, and the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim foundations, the German Historical Institute, the Harvard Business School , the American Council of Learned Societies, Radcliffe College ‘s Bunting Institute, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Cultures of Consumption Programme, Birkbeck College, University of London.