This unique study looks at the role material goods played in shaping our culture. Using archaeological data, probate inventories, and etiquette books, Paul A. Shackel has collected valuable information on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century material items which, when analyzed in historical context, reveals how these items have shaped the development of western culture. Specific examples from the Chesapeake area of Maryland show how individuals and groups responded to social and economic crises by using material goods to define power relations, create social hierarchies, and preserve the social order. Shackel argues that, during the pre-industrial era, society's elite introduced hard-to-find material items, like the fork, with rules of etiquette to maintain social distance and stratification. As the Industrial Revolution made material items cheaper and easier to obtain, the non-elite began to adopt regular usage of particular items as part of standardized behavior while the elite sought to maintain their status with newer and different material goods. Focusing on how the spread of capitalism affected various social groups, Shackel pays specific attention to culture and consumption and symbolic qualities of material culture. His analysis incorporates a review of etiquette literature from the late medieval era to provide a global context for regional behavior and material culture.