Review: The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South

The larderIn his concluding remarks to The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South, Ted Ownby hopes it “likely that this book will be one of the last collections of academic essays in which any scholars feel the need to explain or defend their choice of foodways as a topic” (363). Ownby and co-editors John T. Edge and Elizabeth Engelhardt have done as much as they can to realize this aspiration; their collection of essays is timely and scholarly rigorous. By assembling a group of scholars who concentrate “not on food but on foodways”—which comprise the production, preparation, or consumption of food—the editors have delved into questions about food studies and southern studies that bridge boundaries between different disciplines and historical time periods (364). Continue reading

Connecting the Past with the Present: A Trip to the Grocery Store

Sainsbury'sI think it’s important for historians to try to make connections with the present, not only because it more thoroughly engages students, but also because the past is not static. I haven’t always been great at explicitly drawing these parallels, but when the first day of the U.S. government shutdown coincided with my first Revolutionary America class, I sort of lost it. I thought to myself, “I have to go into class prepared to talk about how people in thirteen disparate colonies—some of whom disliked each other immensely—managed to get it together enough to rebel against Great Britain?” It’s no wonder I ended up showing a pop music video and comparing the Revolution to the bad breakup of a dysfunctional relationship.[1] I assume that a teensy bit of pandering to students’ tastes didn’t hurt, either. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHIt’s been an exciting week for history in the news. First, we learned that Karen Nipps has discovered buried treasure in Harvard’s Houghton Library–650 signatures of Boston citizens pledging to boycott British goods taxed by the Townshend Acts in 1767. The signatories include Paul Revere, John Wheatley (owner of Phillis), and several of Boston’s women.

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Food in America and American Foodways

In his essay on “Eating American,” the anthropologist Sidney Mintz relates a class conversation during which he admitted that he “did not think that there is such a thing as an American cuisine.”[1] Around this time of year, it’s impossible to ignore the influx of commercials, ads, and general hullabaloo pushing “American food” for the Fourth of July. I have to admit that I’ve been convinced by Mintz’s point for a long time, especially as that assertion pertains to the world of early American cuisine.

I first encountered these definitional problems while writing my undergraduate thesis, (over-)ambitiously titled “A Brief Treatise on the Culinary Nature of America During the Time of the Early Republic. In Which the Author Examines Pumpkins, Puddings, Poems, and People. Calculated to Give the Reader a Better Knowledge of American Food and Foodways, and an Easier Understanding of the American Character.” Needless to say, I was a bit keen on imitating early modern cookbook titles back in the day, but the title betrays more than my need to come up with tongue-in-cheek titles (“Roll, Jelly, Roll” and “Peace Came in the Form of a Cookie” were the fake titles of my dissertation for quite some time): it demonstrates how even though I’d written a long paper about food in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, I still wasn’t sure what that cuisine offered as a cohesive whole. Continue reading

Digging Out My Cannibal Girl Hat


A reconstruction of the skull of a 14-year-old girl that researchers have named “Jane.”

I have some initial thoughts on new reports of cannibalism at Jamestown, so I’ve cross-posted them from my personal blog.

So, funny story. When I first submitted my article on cannibalism and the Starving Time at Jamestown to the William and Mary Quarterly, the piece strongly argued against any occurrence of cannibalism. When I got my readers’ reports back, Editor Chris Grasso pointed out that I didn’t really have the evidence to convincingly make that claim. He said that he’d accept the article only if I agreed to temper the argument—which was really fine with me because the main point of the essay was to ask why the stories of cannibalism mattered, not to argue for or against the existence of cannibalism in colonial Virginia. Continue reading

The Historian’s Appetite

Hello, world.

I am slowly becoming accustomed to the feeling of having defended my dissertation, and reacquainting myself with the idea that it’s okay to take a day off here and there. Earlier this week I prepped and served pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup that takes two days to prepare.

I spent time earlier this month exploring a new cookbook, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman, of Smitten Kitchen blogosphere fame.

I came to the field of food history in part because I love food—cooking it, eating it, and sharing it with others—a love which has, at times, demanded that I stretch my knife skills, my ability to multitask, and my willingness to fail. Continue reading