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Abstract

Consumption has emerged as an important historical subject, with most scholars explaining it as a vehicle for therapeutic regeneration, community formation, or economic policy. This work all but ignores how consumption begins with changes to the material world, to physical nature. While environmental historians have something important, even unique, to say about consumption, the split between materialist and cultural analyses within the field has dulled its ability to study consumption as a process and phenomenon that unfolds over space and time. By borrowing techniques from geography and ecology, environmental historians can analyze how space is socially produced through time, an insight that can help to connect material and cultural change in a sustained manner. Spatial histories can also unmask the relationships between production and consumption, and nature and culture, and thereby transcend and subvert seemingly fixed boundaries, from the local to the global. They can also further propel environmental historians into new realms of inquiry, such as international trade and the human body. Historicizing the spaces of consumption may also help to foster a more radical and democratic environmentalism, especially in developed nations, by compelling environmentalists to reassess the distancing effects of consumption upon their politics and attitudes toward those who produce commodities and consumer goods.