Category Archives: Digital History

Teaching Recipes Online: Building Community and Purpose

By Rebecca Laroche

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 12.17.58 PMI started teaching an early modern survey of women writers online in 2002.  My reasons were many, not the least of which were feminist.  Serving a largely military community, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs had more than its share of military spouses, mainly women, who had suddenly found themselves single parents as their husbands were deployed in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and online courses provided the means to continue their education in a flexible manner. The fact that extensive research in early modern women coincided with the establishment of online databases meant that the course’s content was also in line with its form.  Our primary “textbook” was Women Writers Online, then recently released by Brown University. My position at a rapidly growing research university serving a large geographic region meant there were resources for teaching online, and we were in many ways ahead of the national trend. I was able to experiment with different discussion formats and social media manipulations that spoke to the need for intellectual community and deep inquiry within the format.

It wasn’t until a necessary hiatus from online teaching while chairing the department and a sabbatical in 2012 that I came to a profound realization about this aspect of my teaching self, however. Many professors who are teaching online, including myslef, have gone about it all wrong.  The online environment is not simply an update of the classroom to which one translates what you’ve already taught, approximating in the virtual that which we’d come to value in the real. Rather it is its own sphere with its own pedagogical aims and outcomes.  And in this realization, I have developed Early Modern Women Writers Point Two.

You see, during 2012, I also became a founding member of the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC), an international group of scholars committed to creating a database of English recipe manuscripts 1550 to 1850, transcribed and searchable. With hundreds of these manuscripts extant, the task was huge, yet we had all come to recognize the importance and richness of the work.  And with women’s key roles in the genre, it was feminist work, clearly. In our first meetings, it became apparent that this work could sustain generations of scholarship, but it also became certain that it could sustain teaching.

Before becoming chair, I had begun to incorporate “online edition” assignments into ENGL 3200, as one challenge to having Women Writers Online as one’s textbook was the lack of editorial mediation for students.  They could not understand the texts, not because they were incomprehensible, but because they were early modern and had not been “Nortonized.” I wanted students to see that, in line with the theorization of Margaret Ezell, the problem of women writers in the Renaissance was not that there were so few but that there were so few made accessible to modern readers.[1]  Having students make their own edition not only helped to make the works more accessible to students it also made them to realize the work of making things accessible, work from which the male canon had benefited for a century and which still remained to be done for many early modern texts.

From this assignment, recipes were an easy leap, and in the last two manifestations of the course I have made EMROC’s mission the work of the second half of the course.  In these months, students learned to transcribe (currently I use the Cambridge University transcription site and various handouts from Textual Communities), read entries from the Recipes Project blog (to learn about the extensive scholarship at play), performed group work in transcription, transcribed a page of the text themselves, took on the basics of XML, and submitted the document either directly to the database (making them a contributing member) or to me to be submitted with a note to their work. It is difficult scholarship, and at first quite daunting, but the group support meant that the task that first seemed impossible suddenly (often magically) became recognizable.  With the help of the OED (introduced during the online edition portion of the course), they were developing early modern vocabulary and became enmeshed with early modern concerns.  The early modern period, and the labor women did in that time, was alive to them in ways never before experienced.

After two semesters of teaching the course this way, I have had several students catch fire with this mission and with their roles as undergraduate researchers. In October, you will be able to read the research done by two students who continued their coursework on Catchmay in an independent study. One of these young women is even looking into her MLS degree so she can continue to work in the archive.  As they contribute to the database a year after their coursework, I will be teaching two sections of the course in the Spring of 2015.  As my students are transcribing in tandem with other face-to-face courses across the country (see Amy Tigner and Jen Munroe later this month), the online medium underlines the future of collaboration.  You see, to this day, the steering committee of EMROC continues to meet bimonthly on Google+.

[1]. Margaret Ezell, Writing Women’s Literary History (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).

Teaching Recipes: A September Series

By Amanda E. Herbert

Classrooms in 1897 at the Francis M. Drexel School.
Classrooms in 1897 at the Francis M. Drexel School. Courtesy of Wikipedia Images.

In January of 2014, I wrote a post called “Chocolate in the Classroom,” which described a special lesson that I’d designed for my undergraduate Tudor and Stuart Britain course: to learn about the aesthetic and cultural changes accompanying the “Consumer Revolution” of the seventeenth century, students taste-tested chocolate that had been made according to an early modern recipe.  Most of the students really disliked the flavor of the chocolate – which featured spices such as chili, cinnamon, and nutmeg – but the response to my post on The Recipes Project was enthusiastic, with teachers from around the world writing in to talk about the ways that they used recipes in their own classes, seminars, and tutorials.

Recipes are wonderful pedagogical tools.  Deceptively simple, they encourage students to dig beneath and around a seemingly straightforward list of ingredients and directions, provoking conversations about historic foodways, linguistics, conceptions of race, socioeconomics, praxis, and religious and cultural prohibitions.  They require students to become close readers and sensitive, careful thinkers.  And they enliven discussion, as students and teachers alike imagine how a food or medicine might smell, look, taste, or feel.

During the month of September, The Recipes Project will feature a special series of posts on teaching recipes.  Our contributors will demonstrate the many excellent ways that recipes can be used in a variety of classrooms – from university lectures to elementary school classrooms – and in a range of disciplines, including classical studies, composition, history, literature, and the histories of medicine and science.  A particular strength of the series will be the use of recipes in the digital humanities, as several of our contributors are teaching students about web-based transcription via manuscript recipe collections and household account books.  Look for posts by Rebecca Laroche, Jennifer Munroe, Amy Tigner, and Hillary Nunn on the many exciting ways that students are digitizing and analyzing recipes for the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC).  But the series will also feature the work of those who have taken a more “practical” approach to teaching recipes, as Amanda Moniz, Valerie Korinek, Laurence Totelin, and Tovah Bender talk about their efforts to recreate and remake historic foods, medicines, and supplies, and how modern students experience the sensory worlds of the past.

We hope that our readers will be both impressed by the work of this group of scholar-teachers, and inspired to incorporate recipes into their own syllabi and lesson plans.  Please let us know how you’re using recipes in the classroom!  To contribute to the discussion, just hit the “comments” button below.  We look forward to hearing from you.

First Monday Library Chat: National Library of Medicine

Founded in 1836 and located in Bethesda, MD, the US National Library of Medicine is the world’s largest medical library, with nearly 22 million items in its collection. Within this is the NLM’s History of Medicine Division, which features over 600,000 printed works (including more than 580 incunabula), manuscripts dating back to the 11th century, and a rapidly growing digital collection of texts, images and audio files. Today I’m chatting with Michael North, Head of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts, and Beth Mullen, Manager of Web Development and Social Media.

Readers of this blog use recipes as a source for talking about larger trends in cultural history, history of science and medicine, and culinary history, among other topics. Can you recommend any relevant subject guides, calendars of manuscripts, or digital resources that could help them start exploring the NLM’s vast collection?

Thank you for this opportunity to tell people about our extensive collection of recipes, cooking and nutrition at the National Library of Medicine.

The best approach to finding our recipes is to delve into our online catalog,, which covers our entire collection. Our earliest printed books about food and cooking include five 15th-century editions of Bartolomeo Platina’s De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine, considered the first printed cookbook, which focuses on medieval and Renaissance dishes. The Library also has three 16th-century editions of the Roman cookbook De Re Coquinaria by the fourth or fifth century gourmand Apicius.

We have digitized over 11,000 books from our collection, primarily 19th-century printed material from the United States and Latin America, but some of it dates back to the thirteenth century. I would recommend that people go to our Digital Collections page and type in “recipes” or “cooking” into the search box at the top- you’ll instantly see hundreds of books with recipes. Because of our bent towards health and medicine, and because we were founded as a military medical library back in the 1830s, you will see an emphasis on cookery for the sick, at home or in the hospital, and on cooking for soldiers. But the variety is vast.

Last month, the NLM hosted the symposium The National Library of Medicine, 1984-2014: Voyaging to the Future, reflecting on the successes and setbacks of the last 30 years and considering opportunities for the future. What changes and opportunities do you see for the History of Medicine Division?

There has been—and there will be for many years to come—an ever-rising expectation of our collections being available in digital form and our related databases being easily searchable and cross-searchable to enable the best possible discovery of materials for research, education, and learning. As HMD voyages into the future as part of the NLM as a whole, we are committed to preserving our collections for future generations, curating them through our exhibitions and our blog, Circulating Now, and generally providing excellent access to them, whether for scholars seeking material for their next book or article, health professionals wishing to explore the history of their field, educators seeking resources for their classroom, or members of the public interested in the history of medicine generally.

Could you tell us about your bound and unbound early manuscript recipe collections?

Early manuscripts in the collection extend back quite far, including the Library’s oldest European manuscript called Recepta Varia, created in England in the late 12th century, containing hundreds of recipes for keeping the body’s humors in balance. You can see a detailed catalogue of our early manuscripts and incunabula in Dorothy Schullian’s A Catalogue of Incunabula and Manuscripts in the Army Medical Library, published in 1950.

Manuscript circa 1150
Recepta Varia (England, ca. 1150). Therapeutic recipes from Byzantine physician Alexander of Tralles’s Collection of Remedies.

Your collection also includes an impressive number of print recipe collections and related items, including formularies, herbals, and domestic guidebooks. Could you give us a couple of highlights? Do any of these items ever feature in your public programming events or digital exhibitions?

Several items in the Digital Collections stand out, including Annie Wittenmyer’s A Collection of Recipes for the Use of Special Diet Kitchens in Military Hospitals, published in St. Louis at the height of the Civil War in 1864, and produced by the U.S. Christian Commission, which took over the kitchens of many of the Union Army’s hospitals. Another interesting book is Mary Anne Boode Cust’s The Invalid’s Own Book: A Collection of Recipes from Various Books and Various Countries, published in New York in 1853; it is the result of having gathered recipes while caring for an invalid family member while living in “The Spanish Main, many of the Dutch, French, Spanish, English West Indian Islands and North America.” The oldest Latin American item containing recipes is the anonymous Novisimo Arte de Cocina, published in Mexico City in 1831 and dedicated to “las Señoritas Mexicanas.”

Novisimo arte de cocina, ó, Escelente colección de las mejores recetas (Mexico City, 1831).
Novisimo arte de cocina, ó, Escelente colección de las mejores recetas (Mexico City, 1831).

We have used our digitization program to supply content for a number of online exhibitions, including our latest one, From DNA to Beer: Harnessing Nature in Medicine and Industry, which focuses on how life forms such as bacteria, yeasts, and molds can cause sickness or restore health, and help produce foods and beverages. Featured in this exhibition website is The Golden Treasure, or, A Choice Selection of Well Tried Domestic, Experimental, and Medical Receipts, published in New York in 1835. Also on view, with a look at food from a different angle,  is James Cutbush’s Lectures on the adulteration of food and culinary poisons, published in Newburg, New York in 1823.

Mary Anne Boode Custs, The Invalid’s Own Book: A Collection of Recipes (1853).
Mary Anne Boode Custs, The Invalid’s Own Book: A Collection of Recipes from Various Books and Various Countries (New-York, 1853).

The NLM recently launched the blog Circulating Now. What was the impulse behind this? Are there any posts that might appeal to our readers?

The National Library of Medicine is a federal institution—its collections belong to the nation—and the Library’s mission includes a strong element of public access.  In the History of Medicine Division we develop and maintain a range of reference and interpretive resources to support the use of the collection by the public, Images from the History of Medicine, IndexCat™, Profiles in Science, and an award winning Exhibition Program to name a few.  Our new blog, Circulating Now, blog is both part of that effort and a portal to these and other resources. It provides opportunities to share timely and relevant information with the public, highlight collection materials, enhance collaborations, and reach new audiences. Your readers might find our posts about chocolate, childhood obesity, beer, smoking, or horse care to be of interest and I hope many others to come in the future.

Thanks, Michael and Beth! More information about how to visit the NLM is available on their website. Next month we’ll be back in England with the Royal College of Physicians.

New Resource for Late Medieval English Magic

By Laura Mitchell

Late Medieval English Magic: English Manuscripts Containing 15th-century Magical Texts is a project born out of the dissertation research I conducted at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto. I undertook a survey of English manuscripts containing magical texts from the fifteenth century, which became the basis of and wider context for my dissertation project. Rather than have this information languish in a static form in my dissertation, I decided to put it online in the form of a catalogue so that it could be more widely available and easily updated.

L0031855 Witchcraft and magic Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Witchcraft and magic: a man conducting magic rites, devils and a ghost appearing, and a hunter cowering in terror. Coloured engraving. Published: [18--] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
L0031855 Witchcraft and magic
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Witchcraft and magic: a man conducting magic rites, devils and a ghost appearing, and a hunter cowering in terror.
The information in this catalogue is based on and expands on this original research in various ways – because of the improvements over the past few years in digitization projects and better online manuscript catalogues I have been able to include several more manuscripts that were not included in my original survey, and I have been able to discover more detailed information about manuscript contexts and the exact kinds of magic texts that survive.

The Late Medieval English Magic catalogue contains a general search function and it is organized into categories by city, library, magic category (charm, ritual magic, etc.), and charm motifs. The charm motifs are fairly broad. They are based on the semantic motifs discussed by Lea Olsan and others, but I have also included descriptive terms such as whether it uses an object like a plate or ring, or food. There are also links to digitized copies of manuscripts where they are available, as well as to other major online manuscript projects such as the Digital Index of Middle English Verse and Manuscripts of the West Midlands projects.

This catalogue is very much still a work in progress. As of this writing I have only uploaded 43% of the total manuscripts in my survey and I haven’t even begun to include the manuscripts from the British Library and Bodleian collections! Suggestions and recommendations are always welcome. You can contact me through this contact form, in the comments to this post, or on Twitter. My hope is that this catalogue will serve as a resource for other scholars and anyone interested in the history of medieval magic.