As a PhD researcher exploring regional examples of recipe manuscripts in the local archives, I was thrilled when two opportunities to talk about my research with two very different local audiences recently arose. The first, for the wonderful Nottingham PubhD audience, and the other, in a nearby secondary school as part of an event designed to give a ‘taste’ of postgraduate study opportunities to a group of 16-18 year old, post-16 pupils.
What is PubhD?
PubhD is an innovative event that began in Nottingham in 2014 and has been steadily taking up residency in other university cities ever since. The premise is simple; on a monthly basis, PubhD invites three doctoral students from any discipline, to take on the challenge of explaining their research topic in ten minutes or less, at ‘pub level’. In return, participants get a drink or two for their efforts, a great opportunity to face challenges from the (very friendly) audience, and a chance to try out new ideas.
For me, the key to introducing recipes to this pub audience was an emphasis on some of the local Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire families that I am currently researching through their recipe collections; the Willoughby’s of Aspley, the Miller-Mundy’s of Shipley Hall, and Henrietta Cavendish-Holles-Harley of Welbeck Abbey. From here, I was able to give a brief overview of three key themes in my thesis. First, how much recipe manuscripts can tell us about what people ate and the ailments which afflicted local households in the early modern period. Second, how we can trace recipe sharing networks in the region through the many frequent attributions. And tthird, what we can learn about the role of men in early modern domestic life.
The audience response was outstanding and like other speakers on the night, I was asked an array of insightful and interesting questions which ate into far more than my allotted 20-minute Q&A time! I was particularly pleased to see notes taken by one audience member who summarised the talk in a way that gave me a chance to reflect on the current shape of the project:
Postgraduate Outreach Taster – ‘What is a PhD?’
University outreach is a big part of my working life and so, when given the chance to extend this to a postgraduate awareness and aspiration-raising session, I was quick to take it up. By first asking the question ‘What is a PhD?’, the introductory part of this session aimed to address any pupil misconceptions, as well as explain the many routes and options beyond undergraduate study. I approached pupil perceptions and concerns with post-it questions collected from the group early on in the session and answered by the end.
I opened the recipe workshop with a very brief introduction on what a receipt book is, and some of the questions I am seeking to answer as part of my research. The main body of the session then aimed to get pupils actively engaging with recipe sources by examining manuscript and printed recipe sources alongside one another.
I asked the groups two ‘starter’ questions for discussion, alongside the caveat that they should be prepared to share their views with the rest of the class:
- What are your first impressions of these sources?
- What are the similarities and differences between them?
The most striking aspect of the group responses was their own recognition that these types of documents were quite removed from what they are used to encountering in curriculum history topics in school – and this excited them! Although they were unfamiliar with some of the key local historical families and their homes, pupils quickly appeared to be able to identify with the distinctly local aspect of the manuscript copies I gave them. The groups also highlighted their own difficulties in transcribing and understanding some of the text due to sentence structuring and unfamiliar language. They also began to show an interest in how the printed example proclaimed itself to be aimed at ‘Good-h[o]us[e]wives’.
In a time-limited session, it was a challenge for the group to get far beyond these initial responses but with more time, lots could have been done to see pupils extending their skills in reading and transcribing the sources. There are plans to develop this outreach session into an extended history ‘taster’ as part of a summer residential programme for pre-entry university students. In this session, pupils will be given a much longer opportunity to dissect and engage with recipe sources, as well as to explore key themes in greater detail.
Overall, it was amazing to witness once again the universality of interest in recipe books as those in the classroom (and the pub!) embraced the value of studying receipt book manuscripts as historical sources.