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Catalogues Today and Yesterday: Changing Goods, Changing Lives


Social Studies, History, Language Arts, Art, Information Technology/Technology Studies

Change, Ways of life, Technology


  • Historic catalogues from this site
  • Current Sears catalogue (to bring in)
  • Other contemporary mail-order catalogues (to bring in)

Ask each student to bring in one or more mail-order catalogues from home, including at least one current Sears catalogue.

Break the class into small groups and perform the following two activities:

  1. Ask each group to select a historic catalogue from this site. The students must locate the catalogue on the site.
  2. Using the list of specific areas to compare (see below), ask each group to compare the goods available in the historic and contemporary catalogues.
    • Suggested areas to compare:
      • Items for sale: Look at clothing, appliances, toys, sports equipment, and audiovisual equipment.
        • What has stayed the same?
        • What has changed?
        • What has disappeared?
        • For items that have disappeared, has anything replaced them?
      • Some items to look at in both old and new catalogues are: gloves, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, hats, electric irons, hot plates, radios, phonographs, bikes, stoves, barn equipment, cream separators, harnesses, and washing machines.  
  3. Then, lead a class discussion about the changes in goods available then and now, reasons for these changes, and how the changes affect our health, environment, and daily lives.
  4. Extend this to an art activity by printing out or sketching similar items from both catalogues (or the old item with the item that has replaced it, such as a CD player and phonograph), and making a collage that compares the old and the new.


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