I was so very excited to hear Dr. Mark Smith’s keynote at the Bertoti Conference last week—I had recently been advised to read his work The Smell of Battle, The Taste of Siege and was interested to hear what he had to say about sensory history. It seems my ill-luck was to be two-fold, last week. The VT library not have Smith’s book, and interlibrary loan didn’t get it in time for me to read it before his lecture. Not that it would have helped all that much, as I fainted halfway through and spent the remainder with the beginnings of what proved to be a massive migraine. Yes, this is me whining. I’m sorry, but I’m very bummed about it all. That being said, I was coherent enough to hear Dr. Smith note that he doesn’t see sensory history as a subfield, but rather as a habit, as an ingrained approach to history. Though I have yet to read his book, my research hopes to explore taste, and how it operated as a manifestation of identity and was influenced by consumer culture. While it is new to me, I feel that sensory history will have a place in my research. I am very excited to explore Smith’s work to better understand the methodology involved with sensory history, though I am sure Dr. Kiechle will be able to point me in the direction of other useful sources.
I also believe that using economic history will be important to my research, since I hope to explore how food was a consumer item during the mid to late 18th century. T.H. Breen’s concept of a consumer revolution helping to homogenize culture will be central to my argument. His treatment of material culture and food items within a framework of economics and consumption are also very important for my research, and have helped me to learn how to approach food as a signifier (to borrow Michael LaCombe’s term) of greater social, political, and economic trends.
I have always seen myself as a cultural historian, and hope that my research will continue in this vein. While hoping to utilize the methods of the above historians, I plan to focus on individuals and their specific place within a specific history. I will need to rely on identity theory, while also understanding and appreciating the nuances of food as a subject in its own right. Finally, I will need to approach cookbooks in a unique way, as more than just a collection of recipes. Works by Janet Theophano and Barbara Ketcham Wheaton will help me to approach these sources with an appropriate frame of mind.