Around the Table: Celebrating Our Contributors

With the advent of the new year, two members of our editorial team have stepped down from their positions: Recipes Project co-creator Lisa Smith and longtime contributor-and-editor Laurence Totelin. Today we celebrate Lisa and Laurence’s valuable contributions to the project and their service to our community! Amanda Herbert recently spoke with Lisa and Laurence to reflect on their time with the Recipes Project.

Amanda: Tell us about your introduction to the Recipes Project: when did you join, and why?

Lisa: It was a chilly April evening in Saskatoon, Canada, back in 2012… Elaine Leong was over for a week for a conference and various network-building meetings. We were sitting in my (then) living room plotting all sorts of recipe-related activities. We were both intrigued by the possibility of developing a blog that could bring together lots of different voices and would appeal to the wider public. We also wanted to think more widely about what is a recipe, anyway, which is why we took a liberal definition to recipe from the outset, which could encompass ingredient parts, books, magic, and more. Over the summer, we looked into different platforms and ended up going with hypotheses.org as being the most flexible one for a collaboration. We launched the blog on 11 September 2012, with a post on scribblings by Elaine, and were pleased with the good reception it received immediately. 

Laurence: I was on maternity leave with my second child when Lisa and Elaine invited me to contribute to the Recipes Project. At the time, I had never written a blog post, and I was rather nervous. But the invitation sparked something in me, and I started my own blog (Concocting History), which allowed me to grow in confidence. I wrote my first post for the Recipes Project in February 2013 and joined the editorial team at the beginning of 2015, with a series on Greek and Roman recipes. I did not hesitate one second to join because I knew that the Recipes Project was a supportive environment, in which I would be able to develop my editorial skills. 

Amanda: What was your favourite TRP project?

Lisa: What is a Recipe? A Virtual Conversation, an online conference we held in 2017 to celebrate our fifth year. This was a lot of hard work and required a lot of creativity, but we were definitely ahead of the game in terms of a virtual shift. Our goal was to make our conversations about recipes more inclusive, for both people around the world who could not afford to travel and to a wider, non-academic audience. It worked so well, as participants used YouTube, podcasts, blogging, photo essays, and Twitter to join in. We had students, farmers, famous authors, and museum specialists drop in accidentally–they didn’t know it was part of a bigger thing– and contribute to the conversations in thoughtful ways. As Laurence and I were saying the other day, we wish that we had written an article about the conference, which we had planned to do and just never got around to doing… When the pandemic happened, it turned out that our knowledge would have been useful to a lot of people, but by then all sorts of people were trying out virtual conferences with varying degrees of success anyhow. (Readers, let that be a lesson: don’t sit on your good ideas!) 

Laurence: I have two favourites. Like Lisa, I enjoyed the Virtual Conversation immensely. In the COVID era, we have had to switch to virtual conferences, but in 2017, this was very new. We didn’t try to replicate a ‘normal’ conference virtually; we threw away the rule book and tried all sorts of things. Some were more successful than others, but I think that I learnt a lot from the Conversation both in terms of contents and methodologies. My second favourite project was the interaction I had with Jennifer Park on the topic of curdled milk in the breast (here and here). This really demonstrated to me the potential of blogging as a venue for the exchange of ideas between scholars working on different periods (early modern period for Jennifer; Greek and Roman antiquity for me) and different types of sources (drama for Jennifer; medical sources for me). Exchanges between scholars have always happened of course, but blogging allowed us to have our conversation publicly and faster than if we had simply added references to each other’s work in more traditional academic publications. I can’t actually recall whether we had this blogging exchange before or after Jennifer and I met (at the Wellcome Library), but that exchange remains very special to me.  

Amanda: How do you think the project has grown and changed over the years?

Lisa: Our definitions of recipes got even broader. We actively sought out new voices and aimed to be more inclusive by moving beyond our own pre-modern European networks. We quickly realised that we could not do it all with such a small team and expanded to a much larger team of editors and social media editors. This has ensured that we could bring in even more new voices and exciting research! I can’t wait to see what direction the editorial team takes next. 

Laurence: Both the chronological and geographical scope of the project have widened, as we have attempted to decolonise our approach to historical recipes. We used to be a woman-only team, which felt like the right thing in the early days, but we made a conscious effort to change this in the last few years. The blogging format always allowed for flexibility and reinvention, and I look forward to witnessing where the editorial team will take the Recipes Project in the future. 

Amanda: What are your own new directions? 

Lisa: I’ve recently taken on a senior leadership role in my university (Faculty Dean Postgraduate, Arts and Humanities) and will take over as Chair of the Society for the Social History of Medicine Executive in the summer. But my work with the Recipes Project has very much shaped my aspirations in these roles. Through the Recipes Project, I developed my skills in mentoring new scholars and a deep concern about what opportunities are available to them. I also gained experience in virtual community building and collaborative work. These will, I anticipate, be useful in both roles.

Laurence: Like Lisa, I have learnt so many skills through working with the Recipes Project. Most importantly, the Recipes Project has shown me a model for a supportive scholarly community. I have tried to take some of that ethos to my current roles, which include several editorial roles and the co-chairwomanship of the Women’s Classical Committee UK. I’m currently on research leave and I feel at a crossroads from a career point of view, as many large projects I was involved in have come to an end. I’m not entirely sure which road(s) I will take next, but I’m excited to find out. 

Thank you Lisa and Laurence for your years of innovations and contributions! The entire Recipes Project team wishes you all the best in your future endeavors.

If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.


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