Last week’s readings and a thoughtful class discussion certainly impressed upon me the importance of selecting a manageable research topic for my thesis. Looking back on Turabian and her XYZ exercise, I produced the following:
I am writing about a 1795 British cookbook written by a currently anonymous author
Because I want to find out who she was, what community she operated within, and how food was a part of this and can help identify this
So I can help others understand that food is more than just basic energy, that it has intrinsic meaning and value attributed to it by society. That the implications of food consumption are far-reaching. That what seems a simple choice can actually say much about daily life in the past and the greater historical narrative.
With this in mind, I began to brainstorm about how I could turn those claims and desires into a manageable project with a meaningful set of questions. After thinking about what I would like to mine from my main primary source, I concluded that I would like to ask two main questions:
What can a cookbook say about its author, her life, and community?
How can the material culture of a manuscript help determine this?
What can this one specific book tell us about a specific individual, time, and place?
How can the ingredients and dishes present in this book enlighten us about the above topics?
While the first two questions have been answered by other historians studying other works, I feel that the primary I am working with is unique in its value. Not only is it an unstudied manuscript, I also believe that it is important to contribute content to the field of food history, since it is a somewhat young area of focus. I strongly feel that it is important to make contributions that begin to bridge the field between cultural history and food studies, creating a food-first account of history. This in itself is a worthy undertaking, completely aside the contributions to the history of a specific time and place.