We summarize the electric-field dependence of absorption and luminescence in quantum wells for fields perpendicular to the layers, present extended discussion of electroabsorption spectra and devices in waveguide samples, and derive sum rules for electroabsorption. Optical bistability, self-linearized modulation, and optical level shifting are demonstrated in self-electrooptic effect device configurations, with good modulation contrast and polarization-dependent properties. The electroabsorption spectra enable quantitative comparison of theory and experiment for absorption strengths in quantum wells with field. The sum rules enable excitonic effects to be included in the comparison, and good agreement is seen. One sum rule is also more generally applicable to electroabsorption in semiconductors.