Roundtable Conclusion: Food and Hunger in Vast Early America

Today, Rachel Herrmann concludes our food roundtable. You can read Carla Cevasco’s introduction here, Zachary Bennett’s post here, Bertie Mandelblatt’s here, and Rachel Winchcombe’s here. We hope we gave you some things to think about.

This week I spent three days reading three books, and I watched these posts go out into the world while thinking about my comps. I remember my comps year as the year of graduate school when I was more stressed than I can ever recall feeling, for such a protracted period of time, in my life.[1] But I think that it was the state of food history in 2009-10, when I was reading for my comps, that contributed to this feeling of panic.

I don’t mean the state of food studies; that discipline was already healthily expanding. I mean food history. I found comprehensive exams stressful because I knew that I wanted most to speak to early Americanists and early Atlanticists (and I think the distinction was more pronounced back then), but I was not convinced that there were very many early American food histories. There were food histories on other periods and other geographies; there were food studies books on single commodities like sugar and chicken and interdisciplinary food studies collections with foundational essays on method; there was some relevant work on alcohol, and on animals; and it felt like there was no roadmap for my dissertation.[2] Continue reading

Food and Friendship in Early Virginia

The final post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger in Vast Early America is by Rachel Winchcombe, a cultural historian of early modern England and America. She joined the University of Manchester in September 2017 as a Lecturer in Early Modern History. Alongside her teaching, Rachel is currently developing a new research project, provisionally titled ‘Emotional Eating in the Early American Colonies’. This project explores the interplay between diet and emotion in English accounts documenting dietary change in the early American colonies. Our food roundtable began on Monday. You can read Carla Cevasco’s introduction here, Zachary Bennett’s post here, and Bertie Mandelblatt’s here.

A few weeks ago, my ten-year-old nephew earnestly declared, “Rachel, sometimes meat makes me really happy!” Whilst this made me laugh, I could not deny the sincerity of the kid, or the veracity of his statement. After all, we all recognise the power of food to improve our mood and to provide comfort in times of sadness and heartache. For our early modern forebears, I would argue that this emotional aspect of food was no less powerful. In this post I will explore one facet of the emotional power of food, illustrating how it had the potential to irrevocably alter Anglo-Indigenous relations in early Virginia.[1] March 1622 marked a watershed moment in the history of the early Anglo-American settlements. On March 22, the indigenous population launched a devastating attack on the English settlements. In its aftermath, hundreds of English colonists were left dead, and a number of settlements razed to the ground. The attack also, unsurprisingly, resulted in the breakdown of positive emotional relationships between the English and the indigenous population, relationships that I will argue had been constructed around food exchange and commensality in the wake of the First Anglo-Powahatan War of 1609-1614.[2] Continue reading

Bleds de froment or cassave? Bread in the French Tropics during the Seventeenth Century

Today’s post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger is from Bertie Mandelblatt, who is the George S. Parker II ’51 Curator of Maps and Prints at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island. She is a historical geographer whose research and publications address a number of intersecting questions related to the early Americas, and, in particular, both the early modern Caribbean and French overseas expansion: the geographies of subsistence, plantation slavery, and colonial trade and commodities; and cartography as an imperial practice. Our food roundtable began on Monday. You can read Carla Cevasco’s introduction here, and yesterday’s post, by Zachary Bennett, here.

The economic potential of the trade in foodstuffs destined for France’s colonies in the Lesser Antilles in the eighteenth century—the period of the colonies’ economic pre-eminence—was common knowledge on both sides of the Atlantic. Metropolitan and colonial administrators, merchants and their lobby groups, all understood the profits to be made from the subsistence crises endemic to plantation slavery. This knowledge decisively shaped France’s restrictive trade policies in the decades before and after their formal articulation in law in 1717 and 1727.[1]

But what of earlier periods? How was colonial subsistence both imagined and daily enacted when colonial populations themselves were much less dense and characterized by a kind of demographic diversity and parity in which indigenous Kalinago outnumbered the newcomers (French, other Europeans, and Africans), a diversity which simply didn’t exist in the eighteenth century? Continue reading

Damming Fish and Indians: Starvation and Dispossession in Colonial Massachusetts

Today’s post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger in Vast Early America is by Zachary M. Bennett, who is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Connecticut College this autumn. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. His dissertation, “Flowing Power: Rivers, Energy, and the Making of New England,” examines the political ecology of waterpower before the industrial revolution.

Compared to other Native Americans in southern New England, the Ninnimissinuok community of Natick, Massachusetts seemed to have secure footing going into the eighteenth century. Located only fifteen miles outside of Boston on the Charles River, Natick was the largest community of Native American converts to Christianity—or “Praying Indians”—in mainland New England with a population exceeding two hundred persons. These Praying Indians owned their land in corporation to safeguard their enclave against land hungry colonists. To passersby, Natick residents farmed like their English neighbors, dressed like them, and even worshipped like them too. Yet, in contrast to their English neighbors, this community steadily declined over the course of the eighteenth century. Continue reading

Roundtable: Food and Hunger in Vast Early America

Dams that powered grain mills but choked off fish migrations. Cassava bread that replaced wheat. A breakfast that turned into an ambush. The lenses of food and scarcity can transform our views of familiar places in early American history—Massachusetts, Virginia, the Caribbean. Continue reading

My Experience at OxEARS 2019

2019 began with a bang when I traveled across the pond to become the first graduate student studying in the U.S. to present at the University of Oxford’s Early American Republic Seminar (OxEARS). Without the work of my new intellectual family members and OxEARS co-conveners, Grace Mallon and Stephen Symchych, along with the love, support, and prayers of my family and friends stateside, my overall experience at Oxford would not have been as amazing as it was. Continue reading

Guest Post: Fashion from Japan and France: Nightgowns in Colonial Brazil

Le_diner._Les_dèlassemens_d'une_aprés_diner

Jean-Baptiste Debret, “Les dèlassemens d’une aprés diner,” from Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Brésil, vol. 2 (Paris: Firmin Didot Frerès, 1835)

Today’s guest post comes from Rachel Zimmerman (Ph.D., University of Delaware), Assistant Professor of Art History at Colorado State University-Pueblo. She has been studying the art and architecture of the Brazilian town of Minas Gerais since her first trip to the region in 2006. She began examining consumption in colonial Brazil for her dissertation, “Global Luxuries at Home: The Material Possessions of an Elite Family in Eighteenth-Century Minas Gerais, Brazil,” and is continuing research for a book project on elite material culture in the city of Mariana. Follow her work here.

According to the early nineteenth-century English merchant John Luccock, it was customary for Brazilian men to discard stiff outer layers when at home and wear only a cotton shirt, often unbuttoned, knee-length breeches, and clogs.[1] Brazilian standards of decorum permitted informal dress in domestic settings, even when receiving guests. Examination of colonial-era probate inventories from Minas Gerais, the gold mining district, reveals that a small number of educated elite men transformed their state of undress from ordinary to stylish with the addition of a nightgown. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: