Category Archives: Research Methods Assignment

Reading, Thinking, Reflecting, and MGMT

I’m no good at broad retrospectives. I tend to become a bit sentimental, and let my emotions get the best of me. So, for me, answering how I’ve changed and what I’ve learned over the past year is actually a fairly difficult question. I learned; I thought; I changed.

I suppose I’ve had a similar experience to other students who have come here—I arrived with an ideal in mind of what I would achieve quickly realized I knew nothing despaired of ever learning anything, and now am buoyed up by the thought that maybe some part of me will prove worthwhile if I work harder than I’ve ever worked for anything. We’ll see about that. I’m not convinced yet, but we’ll see.

I have learned a lot about teaching that I never knew before. My experience has always been with primary and secondary students in a museum classroom, so being a teaching assistant was completely new to me. I have seen so many different ways to structure and conduct a class that I had never been exposed to before. Perhaps most importantly, I thought critically about the ways I saw classes being taught. I noticed what students responded to and why, and started slowly building an arsenal of techniques that seem to work. I’ve started hoarding syllabi and ideas, despite the fact that I don’t plan to teach. I think that knowing how to organize and engage a class is important anyway, and I’ve started to learn more about that. No matter where I end up, this has been an important thing to learn.

I have learned a lot about reading in ways I never knew possible. I came here with mixed experience, having been both a history and English undergrad. It was difficult to transition from close-reading to the how-can-I-possibly-read-all-this-in-three-days reading I need to do in order to complete my assignments. I don’t think this style of reading is bad—it’s just different. It develops different skills and makes my brain work in different ways. I like that.

I have learned that I miss people. I missed spending my January and February teaching preschoolers about farming and shapes and patterns; I missed helping to launch field trips for excited fourth graders who learned about American history in their books but got to see it come to life; I missed helping adults experience something new about a topic they’ve known their whole lives. Heck, I even missed sitting through interminably long meetings where it seems you get nothing done. I missed connecting with people, and connecting them to history. I did not miss that weird school lunch smell that always seems to emanate from lunch boxes no matter how new or fresh they are and somehow always involves the aroma of somewhat off bologna…thinking about that still makes me a bit queasy.

And so all this to say that I’ve come to realize three main things about me and my experiences attempting to become a historian. First, it takes a lot of thinking. Not just perfunctory thinking, but elbow-deep-in-the-mire thinking where you need every bit of brain-strength you have to get from one point to another. I’ve learned to ask better questions of others, of myself, of sources. I’ve learned that it’s ok to ask questions of established historians, as long as you can substantiate the reason you’re asking. I’ve learned that, really, there’s no point unless you’re going to ask questions. This critical thinking is requisite. You can’t just proceed with the way of thinking you’ve always done and that has always served you well. You need to be open to new ways of approaching sources and situations, open to being taught new ways of analysis. Maybe you don’t enjoy them, but you have to acknowledge that they have a use and a place. Second, I’ve started thinking more thematically, for lack of a better word. I’ve started thinking in a way that always involves a mystery—there’s always a question, and always evidence that helps to support or refute what I think is the answer. Instead of focusing on details, this has led me to start collecting the details into a greater whole which, you guessed it, requires even more thinking. Finally, all of this combines to make me believe that there is no point at which any one person becomes a historian. I think it is an ongoing process of development through the years that requires constant work, attention, and thinking.

I have learned that there’s way too much for me to ever know, but that I need to keep trying. And, whenever I get bummed, I return to the lyrical genius of MGMT: “Yeah it’s overwhelming but what else can we do…get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?” I’d rather try and learn, yet never know than to have never tried at all.


Filed under Research Methods Assignment

“Subject or Signifier?” and Tracking Method

While focusing on how food studies can and does relate to early American History, I find Michael LaCombe’s article “Subject or Signifier?: Food and the History of Early North America” to be critical to my work. Though he intends the article as a discussion of historiography, he also discusses the developed and developing methodology of historians working with food as their subject and, of course, as a signifier for other events. The two are inextricably tied together (for example, tea as a commodity product and tea as a politicized item speaking to a greater issue), though one is no more or less significant than the other.

LaCombe here advises not how to conduct research, but rather how the subject of food can be used as an integrative tool in early American studies considering that, as of 2013, he believed that there was not yet a developed field of early American food history. “At any given place, time, and occasion,” he writes, “food can be a subject in its own right, a signifier with multiple connotations, or both: food is at once a biological necessity, the focus of daily life and household labor, a marker of identity, and a measure of social inequality. Given this complexity, newer literature has called into question historians’ understanding of how cultures and identities are transmitted from place to place or generation to generation and has articulated a more nuanced understanding of cultural exchange and encounter.”[1] How, then, to tease this out? To be sure that food is integrated into a historical understanding of a space, place, or event?

In his article, LaCombe says that he has “…come to understand the term ‘food’ to embrace, first, culturally specific sets of meanings embodied in certain foods and occasions; and second, the employment of those meanings by men and women rooted in history, in a specific place at a specific time, toward specific ends.”[2] With this in mind, food should be approached as both subject and signifier in research, as both indicative of inherent meaning and associative or situational significance. Methodologically speaking, this means approaching a situation with respect for the embodied history of food as well as an understanding of the broader historical context in which it was operating. With this in mind, food has been used by authors such as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Peter Wood as a way to shed light on minority histories of women and African Americans. While employing strong and accepted historical methodology, these historians did not fully use food as the source it is. Instead, he suggests that food acts as a nuanced and fluid entity within history, and that an understanding of this is critical to approaching food in a historicized manner. With these discussions and structures laid bare, it is more useful, now, to return to reading to better understand how and why authors conduct their study—to better understand where in this spectrum of method and understanding and theory they lay, and to understand that in a way that can better help shape my own project.


[1] Michael A. LaCombe, “Subject or Signifier?: Food and the History of Early North America,” History Compass 11/10 (2013): 859.

[2] Ibid., 860.


Filed under Research Methods Assignment

One of my Primary Primary Sources

As one of my primary sources, I will use Approved Receipts, a 1795 manuscript cookbook currently attributed to an unknown author. I chose this work because of what it is—an unpublished collection of household recipes, which opens up a world of discussionARCovers.

At first, this manuscript collection may appear no more significant than any other 18th century cookbook. Similar recipes can be found in this as can be found in many others; it is only important to me because I found it, and held it, and loved it. It may not, in fact, have anything significant to tell us about life in Oxfordshire during the late 18th century, or about women’s authorship. It may just be another cookbook among the many. But—it does have a unique position among cookbooks because it is a manuscript. It was composed intended for household use, rather than publication. This allows it to perform as a pivotal piece used in comparison with other cookbooks composed for publication, and also in comparison with what we know common people were preparing and consuming during the same time period. It bridges the important gap between lower class behavior and prescriptive literature, by offering a comment on what fairly well-off families were accomplishing and aspiring to in the privacy of their homes.

Used in conjunction with other manuscript cookbooks, this cookbook will help to establish a balanced definition of what was practiced, and what was aspired to by individuals of means. Hence, it is an excellent representation of many of the works I will be consulting in my research.


Filed under Research Methods Assignment

Secondary Source Research and an Argument

This week’s secondary research has been a bit unorthodox, to say the least, and I hope I’ll be forgiven for straying from expectations. You see, I shifted my research late in the week and haven’t been able to compile notes for a blog post yet, so I want to share what research I’ve been doing in another realm—trying to figure out what I’m actually doing.

I hope my blog doesn’t seem as if I’m facing a crisis each week; I certainly don’t wish to seem overly dramatic, but there have been a few twists and turns along the way as I’ve gone about my secondary research. I feel a bit as if I don’t know where I’m going, so thought it would be worthwhile to spend some time doing some research to figure that out!

In an effort to get a firmer understanding of what food historians are doing and how they are researching, I stepped out of the library and into the internet. I looked deeper into some of the food history blogs I’ve been nonchalantly following for the past few years in an attempt to better understand what, exactly, is going on and what they’re doing.

First on my list was Sarah Lohman, who blogs at Four Pounds Flour. I’ve been following Lohman for years, and admire how she has been able to combine food history, journalism, and public history. Though trained as an artist, through her experience and work she has come to call herself a “historic gastronomer.” Her work explores how the study of food history can help to develop a personal link with history, as well as the cultural implications that recipes can reveal. By exploring food through a hands-on approach, she is able to see how taste, the ease or difficulty of preparation, and storage techniques may offer insights into history and its transformation into the present. Many of her posts explore the intersection between modern and historic palettes, as can be seen through her exploration of lima bean, bacon, and marshmallow casserole…

Next up was an academic endeavor, Cooking in the Archives. This project is sponsored by UPenn, and is managed by Alyssa Connell and Marissa Niscosia. In this project, recipes from rare books composed between 1600 to 1800 are explored, transcribed, and shared as a way to understand food culture during the transition from the early modern to modern period. This site offers a virtual space for discussion of historic recipes. One of their stated goals is to be ”…able to address contemporary public interest in food cultures  (proliferating on food blogs and websites, for instance) and contribute to the study of early modern culture. We will use the tools of book history and bibliography to decipher our sources, utilize digital humanities methods to exhibit our findings to the general public, and deploy our shared expertise in cooking to prepare early modern dishes in our modern kitchens.” By addressing the cookbooks in their archives, they are employing interdisciplinary theory and commenting on both history and the present, as Lohman also accomplishes in her project.

I then took a stop over at The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, a year-long project sponsored by the Westminster City Archives. This project explores a cookbook compiled by one or more anonymous authors during an unspecified time frame. Certain specific recipes can indicate composition at a certain time period, though it is likely the book was compiled over a span of time. Much like the other projects mentioned, this one transcribes, translates, and creates historic recipes, contemplating the matters of taste, production, and significance.

All of this, compounded with my recent readings, set me to thinking and (potentially…) helped me to frame an argument. All of these people, who have completed projects that I admire, have bridged the gaps between food writing and food history, which is something I find intriguing. In their own right, they have become social gastronomers in that they speak to modern food movements in conjunction with historic food movements.

Last week, I offered the following focus statement: My project is a case study of how recipes/cookbooks can be used to provide important insights into the significance food played and plays in everyday life, how food choice and recipe collection can be indicative of greater societal trends and self-definition.

This week, I would like to offer this: In my project, I will explore the development of 18th century food elitism, and their relationship to modern day “foodies.” Where 18th century food elites acknowledged that food and its preparation was a status symbol and turned to modernization and a diverse palette, modern gastronomes are focusing on heritage cooking as a way to define excellence in the kitchen and social success. Yet in looking back, modern food writers are failing to notice the forward-thinking of their subjects. I will be able to rely on both published and unpublished manuscript cookbooks as primary sources to help me determine what was and was not common. Taking cookbooks as prescriptive literature, I will be able to compare them to privately composed recipe collections to see if there are any differences. I will also be able to use 18th century newspapers and diaries to provide a social context and comment on food and eating habits (such as The Secret Diary of William Byrd).

Broken down:

My topic will be food as an indicator of social constructs, as seen in a comparison of 18th and 21st century food writing.

My questions include how our relationship to food has changed over time, how our relationship to food indicates greater social implications, and how these are manifested through food literature.

My argument is that food, food choice, method of preparation, and food literature were and continue to be utilized as social indicators.

Warrants involved in this project are that food was a social indicator, and was actively used as a social tool during the 18th century.

My evidence will be food literature (cookbooks), diaries, travel accounts, and newspapers, from both the 18th and 21st centuries.

This project should be undertaken because of the abundance of modern foodways trends and the growing attention being given to food. To look back, as is being done more and more frequently, we should understand that those we are observing were looking forward.

Potential issues or objections will certainly include my time frame—how can I choose one geographic area and just one time period to act as indicators for an entire movement? Since this is a case study and limited to the scope of an MA thesis, my project needs to be duly confined. It will offer a comment to a greater context and topic.


Filed under Research Methods Assignment

Defining Food History: Issues Within the Field

This afternoon, a sweet and helpful professor passed on a link to the University of Toronto at Scarborough’s website, Culinaria. I had never before heard of this project, which is a multidisciplinary effort to engage with the culture and diversity of foodways by both graduate and undergraduate students. There’s even a journal I had never heard of—Global Food History. How Had I missed this? I quickly perused the listing of members of the editorial board and found some familiar names: Michael LaCombe, Peter Scholliers, and Paul Freedman. All three are cultural historians who have produced working concerning food in history, and I have explored and am continuing to explore their work. However, the Culinaria website makes it a conscious effort to explain that it is involved in a multidisciplinary project. Indeed, their website showcases projects that aren’t strictly historical, such as an exploration of the role of food as it relates to identity in diaspora communities. I pushed these new findings to the back of my mind as I attempted to get back to my assignments for this week, and duly started thinking about my blog assignment.

As I tried to think of current issues that are being addressed within the food history community, Culinaria kept nagging at the back of my mind. I couldn’t help but wonder—what, exactly, is the “food history community,” and who are its constituent members? Without realizing it, I’ve been attempting to address this confusion throughout my research. I have tried to map out a historiography of the field, but have failed. LaCombe offered some insight into this in his 2013 article “Subject or Signifier: Food and the History of Early North America,” though he too questioned the precise role that food plays in historic scholarship. Much as I have seen in my readings, he argues that food has been used as a tool in diverse scholarship over the past few decades, though it has not become a primary area of study until recently. He concludes that food can be a useful cultural indicator, which I certainly agree with. Despite this, though, I’m left with a bit of bewilderment—how will this be done, and by whom?

I suppose the greatest issue I see that resonates with my research, then, is defining the depth and breadth of food history and who takes part in that conversation. This directly relates to my research since I am reaching for a variety of sources from a multitude of fields. I appreciate and admire the interdisciplinarity of food studies and am excited to be a part of it, yet it is likewise challenging. In a field that is currently developing its own identity, how will I learn how to be its scholar? Who will teach me how to do this? I can only conclude that I must keep reading, keep learning, and start talking. Until I am able to interact with other scholars who have studied food, I won’t fully understand what I’m trying to get myself into. Don’t worry—I meant that a bit wryly, though I do sometimes wonder!

As far as research questions are concerned, this does prompt me to wonder about what methodology or theoretical approach is best for my work. At this point, I suppose I don’t know. However, I know what I’m going to do next. I am going to take the list of editorial reviewers for Global Food History, go to Summon, and do a massive search. I think reading their work will be very helpful in developing a sense of the field, a feeling of where things have been and where they may be going, and how they’re getting there. Hopefully my issue of trying to define a shifting and developing field will become a bit more graceful as time goes on, though its fluidity is one of the most attractive things about it.



Filed under Research Methods Assignment

Focusing on a Focus Statement

A focus statement. Yikes. I suppose the most comforting part about a focus statement is that it will change as my project progresses. That, at least, is comforting! To begin hashing out what my focus statement should be, I took advice from Single and answered the series of questions she poses in Demystifying Dissertation Writing. Though I didn’t collaborate on asking these questions with a partner as she suggests, it was still a very useful exercise. It made me think critically about my project, my expectations and limitations, and what the point of the entire project was. I asked myself the following:

What is your project about? My project is about a 1795 cookbook, and how the included recipes can help us to better understand everyday life during the period in which it was composed.

Why am I conducting this research? I find it personally interesting, and believe that it is important to continue contributing to the growing field of food history.

Why should anyone care about this project? Food is a universal, and as such can be used as a powerful tool to help us understand the lives of those individuals involved with its production, consumption, and intangible collection. Everyone eats, everyone lives, let’s work to better understand how the two interact.

What is the big picture? It is important to pursue this topic for a few reasons. First, food history is a developing field in which new voices are both needed and sought. Second, this manuscript has never before been studied.

When I’m finished with this project, what is the point I wish to leave with my readers? Eek. I suppose I’m still figuring this out, but I’m hoping it’s something along the lines of—there’s so much more to a recipe or a dish than meets the eye.

What theories or methodologies will I use? I’m hoping to use material culture analysis and cultural studies to help me evaluate sources and reach conclusions.

What data, sources, texts, or objects are most appropriate for me to work with? How readily accessible are they? As mentioned above, my primary resource will be a 1795 cookbook to which I have decent access. I’ve transcribed most of it, and am able to travel to the archive where it is stored. I will also need to consult other primary sources, though I’m still developing what they will be. I’m thinking perhaps newspaper articles, merchant records, ship manifestos, and advertisements. Many of these will be available online through databases.

What will be the contribution or implications of my project? It will offer a historically-based, food-first evaluation that interacts with food history historiography, on a previously unstudied resource.

How does this topic align with my professional mission and career goals? Honestly, this project has been over a decade in the making. From the first time I lit a fire and started learning how to do open hearth cooking, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of food in history. I plan to return to working in museums and hopefully working in some way with food history, so producing an academic work will be an added benefit. I’m still considering whether or not to include a Public History project with this, though it would also prove to be a wonderful skill-builder!


And so, I developed the following focus statement: My project is a case study of how recipes/cookbooks can be used to provide important insights into the significance food played and plays in everyday life, how food choice and recipe collection can be indicative of greater societal trends and self-definition.


I look forward to refining and further defining this statement as I continue my research and conversations with my advisor, professors, and colleagues. Who knows…perhaps it will entirely change by the end of the month!


Filed under Research Methods Assignment

Cultural Foods, an evaluation

In an effort to continue expanding my knowledge of the cultural history of food, this week I read Cultural Foods: Traditions and Trends by Pamela Goyan Kittler and Kathryn P. Sucher, published in 2000. I was unsure of what to expect when picking this book off the library shelf, but it had appeared repeatedly on a number of searches I did and so I decided it was worth looking into. At first glance, it is easy to tell that this is not a traditional work of historical scholarship. This can frequently make a work easy to dismiss as being non-academic. However, Kittler is a Cultural Nutrition Consultant and Sucher is a Registered Dietician, and so I approached the work as an opportunity to more fully understand the interdisciplinary roots of food studies.

I’ve started taking a more strict approach to my readings, employing the “THOMAS” method of identifying the Topic, Historiography, Organization, Method, Argument, and Significance of a work. Additionally, I’ve put more effort into taking citable notes. I’ve found that a combination of these two strategies helps me to quickly evaluate a source and determine its relevance and utility. Plus, it’s just kind of fun to have a method and personal set of standards to adhere to.

And so, here are my thoughts and notes on Cultural Foods:

Topic: The background culture of food and the cultural significance/manifestation of food habits and choice, both traditionally and within modern situations.

Historiography: The work doesn’t interact with many historical works, though I think it is interesting and important to note that both William Woys Weaver and Karen Hess (early non-historians who are credited for influencing the beginnings of food history) are referenced in the notes. I believe it is also important to note that this work is not necessarily intended to interact with other works of food history, as it was written for an audience of food service professionals and those interested in cultural studies. This in and of itself, though, is a significant point to consider. See “Significance” below for more thoughts on this.

Organization: The work is organized thematically, giving an introduction followed by separate chapters exploring different ethnic, cultural, and religious groups present in America. Each section is also broken down further with a brief history followed by traditional foodways and modern interpretations of food culture.

Method: The authors evaluated primary and secondary sources to develop their theory of an “American” worldview. They relied heavily on scientific documents and publications, into which category I would place publications by the American Dietetic Association and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, as well as food industry resources such as menus produced by the National Restaurant Association. There was also a reliance on works of sociology to offer a cultural underpinning. Their primary resources were cookbooks, both older and more contemporary. By looking at the ingredients, methods of cooking, and implied significance of recipes in culturally distinct cookbooks, the authors were able to craft their argument.

Argument: Through an analysis of demographic data, food service publications, and eating habits, it can be determined that “American” cuisine is far more complex than mainstream media and thought claims. Far from being a “meat and potatoes” culture, American food is a consciously diverse blend of old and adaptively new cultures.

Significance: For me, the main significance of this work is that it is an earlier (2000) example of food studies. It provides a clearly articulated historiographical point proving the interdisciplinary roots of food studies. While some food historians may have been included in this, the beginnings of the cultural evaluation of food certainly wasn’t the realm of historians.


Filed under Research Methods Assignment

Food as Material Culture, and Cultural Studies

With a bit of a shift in topical focus this last week, I duly changed course for my secondary resource review. To sum up discussions and class—why can’t food be considered material culture? I’ve since started exploring sources in this area. Over the last week, I’ve been spending time reading the articles in Cultural Studies Review, volume 19: “Food Cultures and Amateur Economies.” In this collection of articles, scholars explore the cultural aspects of food and food production through a variety of studies, and help to establish that the scholarly foundations of food studies are still being built. It was particularly interesting to see this collection of articles as a whole, and to consider that they were published in 2013. It offered a very tidy state-of-the-field type reading for which I was grateful; I certainly need to know what is happening in the realm of food studies.

“The material culture of food, and its associated practices and taste formations, have long played a key role in the creation and maintenance of social identities based on ethnicity, nation, gender and class,” begin Isabelle de Solier and Jean Duruz.[1] While their introduction focuses mainly on the development of these concepts during more modern times than I am studying, theirs and subsequent articles provide examples of how food-based cultural history can be accomplished. They acknowledge that cultural historians lacked involvement in food studies until fairly recently, yet point to a foundational text: Food and Cultural Studies, by Bob Ashley, Joanne Hollows, Steve Jones, and Ben Taylor. I was previously unfamiliar with this 2004 work, but it is on my list of sources to check this upcoming week. Bonus points to this volume for pointing me in the right direction!

Taking a look at family culture and identity, food preparation’s significance, and how this relates to cookbooks, Sian Supski offers a gendered case study in “Aunt Sylvie’s Sponge: Foodmaking, Cookbooks, and Nostalgia.” Using her female forebears’ recipe for sponge cake, Supski weaves an intimate tale blending her own experiences with an analysis of vernacular cooking and recipe sharing. In her work, Supski explores the concepts of nostalgia (positive, productive, and ambivalent), space and place as meaning-making; she additionally applies Lisa Heldke’s concepts of “thoughtful practice” and “anxious practice” to her own experiences with baking and recipe sharing. She argues that one recipe can tell the stories of an individual and family, and that food making can be a conscious act of nostalgia. Though taking place in 20th century Australia, this article is a rich source for me because it tidily organizes many of the thoughts I’ve had in one academic space—the concepts discussed above are assumptions that I had been working off of previously. Now, though, I have a road map to where and how I can find support for these thoughts. Again, of great utility from this piece comes her nods to scholars who have already traversed these grounds, including Janet Theophano (whose work I have already explored), as well as Lisa Heldke, Jon Holtzman, Jean Duruz, and Susan Lenoardi. While the latter authors are new to me, I am looking forward to seeing what offerings they have as I move forward. Another useful bit of this article is its style and construction. I was impressed with its construction and tone; while being scholarly, it was also personal and an engaging read. Going into a burgeoning, interdisciplinary field which has a large population of food writers in its ranks, I believe it is important to know how accepted published works are being written.

I had many similar reactions when reading Tamara Kohn’s article, “Stuffed Turkey and Pumpkin Pie: In, Through, and Out of American Contexts.” In this work, Kohn argues that identity can be directly related to food and food habits—including how and why one eats, and how and why one prepares food in a certain way. In short, food habits represent personal expression and therefore embody deep meaning. She does this through studying the concept of the Thanksgiving feast through time, determining that it has been and remains an inherently cultural manifestation and message.[2] Looking at food studies from a background in anthropology, she states that, “How these processes [migration, globalization, change, hybridity] are played out in the context of foodways is, I would suggest, particularly interesting, because one can explore how they manifested alongside often complex indications of locality and belonging.”[3] Exploring how the organized feast of Thanksgiving can do this, she asks how individual dishes can manifest these ideals. She concludes that recipes are commodities that convey meaning as much as they carry taste, and that both are important in the development of cultural meaning. “Food is a field of action,” she says, one in which many stories can be told.[4] Again, Kohn nodded toward scholars whose work I need to consult, while also solidifying for me assumptions that I had held. I was once more struck by her blend of personal and academic in her writing, bringing in her own experiences with her mother’s celery root salad as a way to illustrate and enliven her argument. For me, both of these works exemplify what I would like to do with my project, and both have given me a [hopefully] clearer path forward.


[1] Isabele de Solier and Jean Duruz, “Food Culture Introduction,” Cultural Studies Review 19, no. 1 (2013): 4.

[2] Tamara Kohn, “Stuffed Turkey and Pumpkin Pie: In, Through, and Out of American Contexts,” Cultural Studies Review 19, no. 1 (2013): 1-3.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Ibid., 8.


Filed under Research Methods Assignment

Secondary Source Research: The Joys of Reading Ulrich

As I continue to determine the course for my research, I find myself wading through secondary sources that may or may not be relevant in the long run. And, yet, they remain so very interesting. I can’t help but feel that, no matter what, they will help provide me with a useful background that will allow me to truly understand the context of my primary research. This week, I spent time exploring an author with whom I’m already familiar—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. In fact, Ulrich provided my first exposure to microhistory when I was an undergraduate. Re-reading A Midwife’s Tale last semester in grad school made me remember why I loved it so much—using something so seemingly mundane to demonstrate the importance of an individual’s life in a greater setting inspired me to believe in the utility of close studies of nontraditional sources. Bearing this in mind, I set up reading The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth.

Though I am still coming to terms with the fact that my project may not be firmly based in American history, I firmly believe that Ulrich’s analysis of primary sources transcends much time and space. While the context in which her analysis rests, Ulrich’s methodology provides a strong example of how to engage with unique sources. Her use of material culture analysis in reading women’s lives through their possessions was particularly interesting. First and foremost, I admire Ulrich’s desire to readjust scholars’ perspective when approaching material goods. Instead of assembling them into a linear narrative as had been done in the past, she aims instead to evaluate how much objects, experiences, and lives intersect. The commonality shared between the object and experiences is vital to Ulrich, and makes me wonder to what extent cookbooks can demonstrate the same things…

Her third chapter, in which she looks at a cupboard owned by Hannah Barnard, is particularly interesting to me. Through a knowledge of cupboards/chests of drawers, Ulrich is able to analyze that of Hannah Barnard to come to conclusions about the life led around the cupboard. How could cookbooks be used to do the same thing? How much more evocative could cookbooks be? Can the very nature of recipes and ingredient-sourcing be used to create an equally intricate communal experience?


Filed under Research Methods Assignment

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