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

Call for Blog Posts: Food and Hunger in Vast Early America

In February 2017, our colleagues at Nursing Clio issued a call for a series on nutrition, resulting in a variety of posts on nutrition, food, and hunger over the several months that followed. This call aims to build on that work by focusing specifically on Vast Early America. The co-editors (Carla Cevasco and Rachel Herrmann) welcome posts spanning the fifteenth thru mid-nineteenth centuries that cover a broadly defined Atlantic World. Topics might include (but are not limited to) agriculture, cookbooks, diplomacy, foodways, hunting, livestock, medicinal recipes, markets, pharmacopeias, dietetics, single-commodity foodstuffs, and warfare. Posts should be between 750 and 1,500 words; footnotes are strongly encouraged. We also recommend reading our contribution guidelines. Please send posts to both email addresses (Carla.Cevasco@rutgers.edu and HerrmannR@cardiff.ac.uk) by March 15, 2019. We will aim to respond by early April with an eye toward running this series in late April and early May.

Inspiration Roundtable: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Respect the Historiography

This is the second post in a roundtable about research inspirations. You can read the first essay, a guest post by Whitney Barlow Robles, here.

My dissertation on food and war, which became my first book project on war and hunger, originated at a crossroads between panic and personal interests. I was a sophomore, taking a class on the American Revolution, and the professor was walking us through the process of writing a final paper by requiring a paragraph-long research proposal, followed later in the semester by an annotated bibliography. We were at the point in the semester where research proposals were nearly due, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. I remember discussing my growing sense of panic at swim practice with a friend, and vacillating between this sense of anxiety, and pleasant anticipation of dinnertime. I swam for the team friendships, and the fact that even bad dining hall food tasted good after a hard workout. As I speculated about our dinner choices, my friend interrupted me, observed that I was obsessed with food, and suggested that I write about it for my history paper. Continue reading

Evolution of an Article

TypingIn summer 2010 I sat in the house furnished by Rhys Isaac in Colonial Williamsburg, and attempted to write my first dissertation chapter. I’d just finished my first research trip, to Library and Archives Canada, in Ottawa, and was in the middle of my second, at the John D. Rockefeller Library. I was trying to follow advice I’d read to write as I researched. There was no Wi-Fi in the house, which was a curse and a blessing. I couldn’t get distracted, but I also did not have instantaneous access to articles and books, which meant I couldn’t check basic facts and chronologies, which, turns out, tend to be missing from your research! Continue reading

A Toast to John Adams

ja wineHappy 280th birthday to President John Adams: lawyer, statesman, and…wine connoisseur? He began a crisp New England morning like today with a tankard of hard cider, but Adams’ years in Europe primed his palate for fine French wine. Continue reading