Over the winter break I was back in Austin, catching up with grad school friends and reveling in a week’s worth of breakfast tacos. Part of this week included a trip to the Alamo Drafthouse to see Rogue One, because we all know work/life balance is important. For the uninitiated, the Drafthouse is a magical movie theater where you can view new movies while eating and drinking. They’re famous for their all-day Lord of the Rings marathon, complete with second breakfast and elevenses. So I was pretty excited to see what themed food and beverages the theater managed to create using inspiration from the Star Wars cannon. Remember how I said work/life balance is important? Well it is, but sometimes I have trouble switching off.
On the way to the theater I began thinking through all the food-related scenes in Star Wars. I was convinced that there were all of these significant diplomatic exchanges in food because that’s now my standard operating mode when I read certain sets of primary source documents. By the time we got to the theater I hadn’t been able to think of exemplary moments. And when I sat down to read the Alamo Drafthouse’s menu specials, I was pretty disappointed. The only thing that really related to Star Wars was a drink made to look violet-blue and to evoke the planet Hoth.
And then, reader (are you getting the feeling of non-switched-offedness, yet?), I realized that there were not great Star Wars inspired options because there is very little food diplomacy in Star Wars. I can currently think of two examples: one, in Empire Strikes Back when Luke first meets Yoda and Yoda tries to take some of Luke’s food and Luke refuses because he doesn’t know that Yoda is A BIG DEAL, and the other in Return of the Jedi, when Leia convinces an Ewok to trust her because she shares a snack with him. I mean yeah, there’s a tense bar scene in A New Hope and also that part in Attack of the Clones when a rogue coke can makes an appearance, but in general let’s pretend the prequels don’t exist. There’s also an instance of Ewoks planning to burn the rebels alive, but it’s unclear whether they plan to eat them (and you can bet this sparked a discussion about whether Ewoks eating rebels counted as cannibalism–I’m a firm no). So the Leia-Ewok exchange is really the only example that I’d classify as food diplomacy because it leads to a rebel-Ewok alliance.
And that’s when I realized that I was trying to apply a first book model to the world around me and started to panic about the second book.
Here’s the thing guys: I have been feeling really caught between the first and second book projects right now. The situation kind of came to a head when I was in Austin because I was finishing my AHA paper, which is the first time I’ve tried to interpret new material for the second book project. As I wrote I realized that I was using themes and models and terms from the first book project, even though my first book project is teaching me that my models and terms (like food diplomacy!) are time- and place-specific. I don’t have enough background reading/historiography on the new times and places of the regions I want to cover in the second book, so I was failing to make my use of those first book terms specific enough.
My first book is in part a book about how discourses of landed hunger changed diplomatic food-related interactions during and after the American Revolution. I’m about halfway through with revisions, so I’m still thinking through a handful of ideas. My second book project is about maritime and riverine hunger, and asks how hunger was similar to and different from landed hunger in a variety of watery Atlantic World contexts. I’ve blogged about some preliminary ideas on that second project here. In sum, I’m always interested in contextualizing peoples’ hunger-related decisions and actions because ideas about hunger have changed over time.
As I wrote my AHA paper, I realized that the first book’s food diplomacy was not the food diplomacy I was looking for for the second project. I wasn’t even sure that food diplomacy was the right term for the relationships I was describing in that paper. My paper combined some of the previous work I’ve done on white colonists in Sierra Leone—and their relationships with the Temne—with a reading of new research on white Sierra Leone colonists’ interactions with the Fula. The paper was predominantly interested in analyzing James Watt’s 1794 expedition to Timbo, and the ways that Landuman, Fula, Susu, Mande, and Temne created and prevented English hunger by distributing or withholding foodstuffs. I still need to work through a LOT of the context here, but my early hypothesis is that these interactions controlled the pace through which the Watt expedition moved through these different geopolitical regions. My first book’s use of food diplomacy, while time- and region-specific, is always dependent on uncertain power relationships. I’m not sure this model will apply for the Sierra Leone portion of the second book because power relations seem pretty certain; the English are not the party with the upper hand on the eighteenth-century Upper Guinea Coast.
Which brings me back to Star Wars and to Rogue One. It took the act of sitting in the theater and semi- switching off for me to admit that the process of editing the first book has given me enough experience to realize that it’s all well and good to be coining terms, but those terms cannot become substitutes for actual analysis of the situation you’re studying in any particular moment. I can’t just use the idea of food diplomacy for moments in the second book project because I haven’t analyzed the sources yet to the extent that I need to. Now if only I could go to a beachy tropical island, and have an electronic arm select all the documents I need for this next research project from one large (presumably) climate-controlled tower.
Rogue One; Or, Most Productive Trip to the Imperial Archives Ever
— Christopher Heaney (@ChristophHeaney) December 23, 2016
But it’s going to be okay. I just need to remember that it’s been a long time since I’ve been this close to the beginning of a project, that even if the shape of my project is not coherent, I do have a coherent process, and that it’s fine if the second book project is giving me all the feels. So I am officially seeking commiseration, advice, and general wisdom about the second book project. Help me readers, you’re my only hope!
 I am ambivalent about this inability to switch off. Part of me is really glad I work on a topic that I enjoy thinking and writing about. Part of me gets annoyed when I can’t help but over-analyze food commercials.
 Journal of James Watt: Expedition to Timbo Capital of the Fula Empire in 1794, ed. Bruce L. Mouser (Madison, WI: African Studies Program, 1994).