Creating a Manageable, Interesting Project

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.


Filed under Research Methods Assignment

9 Responses to Creating a Manageable, Interesting Project

  1. KJ

    Sara, a few thoughts sparked by your post. It seems as though your interest is in using this cookbook to say something about food — availability, uses, something – at the end of the 18th century in a certain community. So are you writing about the cookbook or are you writing about food and what a cookbook can tell us about the relationship between food and the culture of the era that produced the cookbook? (It’s the last of your 4 questions that I find most intriguing, tho for sure, the others are related.)
    Am also wondering if you’ve thought about developing a Public History thesis project? Perhaps one that involves annotating the cookbook as well as trying to ascertain its provenance? At least, that’s the one that came to mind as I read your comments.

  2. Sara

    You absolutely hit the conundrum I’m in right now, Dr. Jones–I’m not sure what direction to take this project. I only recently began considering a Public History project. In thinking on it, I believe the exploration of the book in itself, as well as the receipts included, could provide a fascinating interactive project.

  3. KJ

    I wonder if there’s also an element of technology in that last question. What did a cook have to do in order to produce the recipe in the cookbook? For what class of family would the technology be available? Were ingredients locally available or did they require the family’s involvement in national or international commerce? Oh my…food history could be lots of fun!

    • saraevenson

      I agree: food history is so much fun! Technology and accessibility are definitely considerations that have to be borne in mind when considering what and how people were eating and recording that.

  4. Laura


    It sounds like you have a great start to your project and I feel like we are in similar boats in that I am also struggling a bit with direction. I really like the idea of a Public History project for you, I feel like you could do a great deal with that and produce an interactive product that will not only be interesting for historians but for a more general audience as well. I am looking forward to seeing the progress you’ll make with your project this semester and what direction you decide to take!

    • saraevenson

      Thanks, Laura! I’m strangely not concerned about not having a defined direction at this point. I’m sure that everything we’re reading will help us in the long run!

  5. davidatkins

    If you are interested in seeing an example of some digital projects check out the archives digital library site at: I would start by checking out some of the diaries they have up on the site, Jeffrey T. Wilson’s diary is a good one to start with and was recently finished. I know they are not cookbooks, but I think you could easily create something similar for a public history project!

    • saraevenson

      Thanks so much for the link, David! I’m definitely still in the exploratory phase concerning a digital project–it’s currently outside my area of expertise, but I’m very interested in developing new skills.

  6. KJ

    I think your idea about a map is quite an interesting one. Have you mentioned it to Dale? even if it focused on only one or two recipes, it would be quite a visual representation of the connection between the world of the kitchen and the world of commerce.

Leave a Reply