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Abstract

Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers a unique setting through which to explore cultural changes within 17th- and 18th-century America, including shifting foodways and consumerisms. Harvard’s early leaders constructed their collegiate community by controlling many aspects of scholars’ lives, including their eating, drinking, and purchasing practices. Between 1650 and 1800, the college operated the “Buttery,” a commissary where students supplemented meager institutional meals by purchasing snacks and sundries. As a marketplace, the buttery organized material practices of buying and selling as people and things flowed through it. Archaeological and documentary evidence reveals how college officials attempted to regulate, but lagged behind, improvisational student consumerisms. The buttery market functioned both as a technology of social control and an opportunity for individual agency, providing broader lessons for consumer studies.

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