Introducing the Summer University on Food and Drink Studies

Graham Harding (Oxford) and Beat Kümin (Warwick)

Founded in 2001, the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA) has become a major research and public engagement hub. It runs an annual open convention, thematic colloquia and numerous outreach and heritage activities. Based at Tours in France, it collaborates with the city, region, François Rabelais University and other partners to raise the profile of food studies world-wide. Resources include meeting / exhibition rooms and a specialized library – at the Villa Rabelais in the town centre – as well as an ever-expanding searchable network of currently over 400 members.

Since 2003, the Institute has also run a ‘summer university’ dedicated to food and drink studies. The first eleven editions were led by food history pioneers Allen Grieco (Harvard/Florence) and Peter Scholliers (Brussels), the last four years by Isabelle Bianquis (Tours), Antonella Campanini (Bra Pollenzo) and Beat Kümin (Warwick). On each occasion, fifteen-twenty masters / doctoral students and around ten senior scholars meet at the Croix Montoire residential centre overlooking Tours for an intensive week of student presentations, faculty lectures, inter-disciplinary exchange (the official language is English) and – given the location’s distinction as one of France’s official Cités de la Gastronomie – excellent hospitality. Alongside, participants have the opportunity for independent work in the IEHCA’s collection of over 9,000 books / dedicated periodicals and to gain formal study credits, while also honing their debating, chairing and commenting skills.

Participants of the 2017 Université d’Eté at Villa Rabelais in Tours. Picture: Olivier Rollin.

 

In 2017, ‘all of us’ meant seventeen students from thirteen different countries ranging in age from 22 to 69 and nine faculty members from Italy, France and the UK. The disciplinary spectrum of the week’s programme included archaeologists and anthropologists, historians, historians of art, sociologists, medical doctors and literary scholars, while the chronological scope ranged from early Bronze Age Europe to modern day Asia. Alongside their academic endeavours, participants attended a cinema evening (watching the 1996 movie Big Night inspired discussions on gastronomic stereotypes and the relationship between food and migration), a trip to a Loire château and two hands-on ateliers: a visit to the buzzing Saturday market and the chance to taste specialities from the Touraine region. Quite a few were also spotted engaging in field studies at the lively guingette on the nearby river shore and the ever-packed cafés lining the central Place Plumereau.

Open-air food and wine-tasting atelier at Croix Montoire in 2014. Picture: Beat Kümin.

The great advantage of food and drinks studies is that – regardless of personal, regional and academic backgrounds – there are always points of common ground and numerous intersections between apparently diverse topics. Our discussions ranged over the nature of evidence, the importance of empathy in interpreting the testimony of our subjects (be they real or imagined, living or dead), the necessity (and risks) of engaging with the wider world / public around us, techniques of ‘close reading’, the utility of ‘big data’ analysis, and the trajectory and future of food studies. In particular we engaged with the challenge of ‘fragmentation’. Informed by a presentation from Professor Jean-Pierre Poulain (author of The Sociology of Food, Bloomsbury 2017), we assessed the approaches and implications of different models for ‘Food Studies’ and how we as individuals could reach out across geographical, personal and disciplinary boundaries. Registrations for the next gathering will open early in the new year, with full details published on the website. The co-directors are always happy to answer any questions and would be delighted to welcome you in 2018.

Our posts to the Recipes Project over the next few weeks draw on the summer university proceedings to highlight the extraordinary variety of work that food and drink scholars are now generating. The series starts with a posting from Graham Harding of the University of Oxford on how champagne shaped and was shaped by its role as the central (even the only) ‘dinner wine’ in at the formal meals of the nineteenth-century British elite. Then, in no particular order (as yet), there will be posts on cookbooks and nationalism in Latvia, Poland and contemporary Catalonia; on the drinking landscape of early modern Britain; on ‘osh palov’, the dish that defines the Uzbek diaspora worldwide; and the food habits of modern Malaysia. Bon appétit!

Graham Harding returned to the study of history after a career spent in publishing, advertising and marketing. Having completed an M Phil in Cambridge, he is now a final-year D Phil student at St Cross College, Oxford. He has written several books including The Wine Miscellany (2005). More recently he has published on champagne, on the nature of connoisseurship in wine in the nineteenth century and on the nineteenth-century wine trade.

Beat Kümin is Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Warwick (U.K.) and co-director of the IEHCA Summer University on Food and Drink Studies in Tours. His research focuses on social exchange in local communities, particularly in parish churches and drinking houses. Publications include the monograph Drinking Matters: Public Houses and Social Exchange in Early Modern Central Europe (2007), the co-edited source collection Public Drinking in the Early Modern World: Voices from the Tavern 1500-1800, vols 2-3: The Holy Roman Empire (2011) and the edited anthology A Cultural History of Food in the Early Modern Age (2012).


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