Sarah Peters Kernan is an independent culinary historian. She holds a PhD in medieval history from The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on the production and use of cookbooks in medieval and early modern England. She has published in the journal Food & History and regularly contributes blog posts for The Recipes Project. Sarah collaborates regularly with the Newberry Library, assembling modules on food history topics for Digital Collections for the Classroom, teaching Adult Seminars on food history topics, and recently appearing on the Shelf Life podcast. She has also worked with organizations including The Met Cloisters and the Culinary Historians of Chicago.
Before the new academic year begins, the Recipes Project would like to celebrate the many accomplishments of our contributors from the past year! Our community has been busy publishing, securing new jobs and fellowships, enjoying promotions, and more. We heartily congratulate all of you for your successes; the breadth of your interests and experiences make the Recipes Project an exciting and enriching endeavor!
We also welcome contributors to share your news with the Recipes Project community throughout the entire year on Twitter or Facebook!
Miranda Brown published “Mr. Song’s Cheeses: Southern China, 1368-1644” in Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies 19, no. 2 (2019). The article reconstructs a long forgotten cheesemaking tradition in South China. It represents the first installment of a book-length project on the history of dairy in China.
Anny Gaul defended her dissertation, “Kitchen Histories in Modern North Africa,” at Georgetown University in Washington DC in May 2019. She will be starting a postdoctoral fellowship in Culture, History, and Translation this fall at Tufts University in Boston.
Jennifer Munroe has recently published several articles. With Rebecca Laroche, she published “Pest Control” in Lesser Living Creatures: Insect Life in the Renaissance, edited by Joseph Campana and Keith Botelho (Penn State University Press, forthcoming). Also with Rebecca Laroche, she published “Teaching Environmental Justice and Early Modern Texts: The ‘Co’ in Collaboration” in Teaching Social Justice Through Shakespeare, edited by Wendy Beth Hyman and Hillary Eklund (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming). Jennifer also published “Women and Gardens” as part of the “30 Years, 30 Ideas” Series in Women Writers in Context and “Digital Studies at the Margins: Manuscript Sources and Inclusivity.” in Shakespeare Newsletter 67, no. 2 (2018).
Anne Stobart, a coordinator of the Herbal History Research Network (HHRN), is celebrating the organization’s tenth anniversary this fall. Since 2009, the HHRN has organized seminars and study days on topics ranging from botanical garden history to distillation of herbal medicines and more. Starting in 2017, the HHRN set up a regular online blog for researchers to share best practice in their use of original herbal resources such as medical texts and recipes.
This month on Around the Table, I am speaking with Helen Davies and Alexander Zawacki, Program Coordinators of the Lazarus Project and PhD students in English at the University of Rochester. This month on the Recipes Project, we’ve explored all kinds of ideas about texture. Now, we’ll get a chance to learn about digital textures, and how technologies like multispectral imaging can help scholars unearth new information about manuscripts. Those of us dealing with manuscript recipes from any time period are accustomed to erasures, stains, and layers of writing. Helen and Alex provide information about the ways in which multispectral imaging can help us interpret these elements of our sources.
Tell us a bit about the Lazarus Project. Do you work with materials from a specific time or place? With what sorts of projects and partnerships has your lab been involved?
The Lazarus Project is a multispectral imaging endeavor located at the University of Rochester. We’re a mix of professors, graduate students, and undergraduates from a range of different fields all working to use cutting-edge technology to digitally recover lost texts and images. Many of us — Helen, Alex, PhD Candidate Kyle Huskin, and our advisor (and the director of the project) Gregory Heyworth — are medievalists, and so many of projects tend to focus on objects from that time period in Western Europe, but we’ve also worked on Biblical manuscripts from Egypt, pre-Columbian material from the Americas, postcards sent from concentration camps and censored by the Nazis, and eighteenth-century musical scores from Germany. We’ve partnered in the past with (to name just a few) the United States Holocaust Museum, the Folger Library, the Beinecke Library, the Saxon State and University Library Dresden, the Vercelli Chapter Library in Italy, and the Bodleian Library.
How does your lab select items to analyze? Do libraries and organizations reach out to you, or do you seek out specific items and projects?
A bit of both. Sometimes we’ll find objects that we particularly want to work on, and set about applying for grants and searching for funding to make that happen. Other times institutions or even private individuals will reach out to us about an object in their care that they would like to have imaged.
Could you explain how multispectral imaging works? Can you provide a few examples of what scholars can learn about books with this technology?
We take an object — a manuscript, for example — and photograph it first under discrete wavelengths of light, moving from the ultraviolet through to the infrared. Then we take another series of images under only ultraviolet, violet, and blue light, which induces fluorescence in the object, like when you wear a white t-shirt under a blacklight. We use filters to separate out different wavelengths from the fluorescence that the object emits, trying to squeeze as much data out of it as possible. Lastly, we take a final group of photographs while shining light upwards through the manuscript, which has the potential to reveal “ghost letters” — places where the ink has been removed, but the parchment has thinned enough to reveal where it used to be.
Photographing the object is only the very tip of the iceberg, though — almost never do any of the images reveal all or even much of what we’re looking for. Next, we process the images using software originally designed to analyze satellite and aerial imagery. This can be a very laborious and time-consuming process.
Our goal is to recover texts and images that have been lost to time and damage. Palimpsests are a great example of the kind of thing that scholars can learn using this technology. In the medieval period, people would sometimes erase entire manuscripts by scraping or washing the parchment clean, and then re-use the pages to make a new book. The “undertext” — the book that was erased — is often illegible, far too faint and obscured by overwriting to read. We try to make that undertext visible again, usually for the first time in centuries. Other times we work on objects that have been damaged by fire, water, chemical staining, or simple fading, all with the goal of bringing scholars new texts to work on and study.
As you know, our readers deal with recipes of all kinds (medical, household, culinary, alchemical, etc.) We encounter strange marks and stains all the time in our books! What can multispectral imaging tell us about those marks and stains?
Multispectral imaging can help readers work with a variety of stains and marks in a variety of ways. Firstly, we can help you see through them. MSI can help readers see underneath the stains. This can be very important in manuscripts whatever been treated in chemical reagents. As you and your readers likely know, chemical reagents were widely used for a time in order to bring out ink that had faded. Yet this momentary gain in legibility was frequently followed by long term damage to the manuscript. MSI can help digitally reverse these stains. Hyperspectral and other imaging modalities can be leveraged to look at material composition of stains. Multispectral, however, mostly helps with legibility rather than material analysis. A group of scholars has recently tried to push the material analysis capabilities in new directions through the Library of Stains project.
What kind of training or partnerships might be necessary for a humanities scholar without a digital background to incorporate imaging into their research?
An interested humanities scholar would first need to either purchase a multispectral imaging system or partner with a group or institution that owns one. This partnership could take the form of receiving some training in operating the technology (unless the group would be doing both the imaging and the processing, as we often do) or being lead scholar on the project. Training could incorporate learning more about MSI on site or image processing training. There is a range of software available for processing including ENVI (which we use), Matlab, Python or Image J (for which imaging professionals built various custom toolkits). A lead scholar partnership involves a humanities scholar reaching out to us for imaging, working with us to secure funding for the project, and then this individual driving the research. We will work with them to ensure we get as much data as possible from an item, but they lead the transcription, translation and examination of the document. This gives non-digitally inclined scholars the opportunity to work with multispectral images and recovered texts.
How did you become interested and involved in digital humanities and the Lazarus Project?
All of our team members have come to the Lazarus Project through different routes.
Helen: I had the opportunity to photograph early print books in the York Minster Library while working on my MA in Medieval Studies. This led to me pursuing a digital humanities MA and further imaging jobs. Eventually, a friend of a friend asked me to do some work for Lazarus and then Greg encouraged me to apply for a PhD to continue learning from and working with the project.
Alex: I found out about the project as a first year PhD student at the University of Rochester. I was fascinated by the idea of recovering lost texts. I started working with the project to see what we could find, and I am now cultivating my own projects to search for lost material in my own field.
Do you have any favorite Lazarus Project items you’ve worked with, so far?
We all have our own individual favorites we have worked on in the past.
Helen: My all-time favorite is the damaged medieval world map in Vercelli, Italy. There are only a handful of large scale medieval wall maps to survive (others have fallen victim to bombs, binders and other forms of destruction). The map in Vercelli survives, but has been largely unreadable. We have imaged it, recovered it, and, I am happy to report, as of last week I have created an entirely new digital facsimile of the document. However, I have loved getting the chance to work on a variety of objects from ancient coins to Old English poems to early modern globes.
Alex: I’m torn between the Codex Boenerianus, the Black Book of Camarthen, and a single manuscript fragment from the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections department. The latter had been used as a binding fragment and was terribly faded and stained. No one had been able to read any of it in the 50 years that it had been in the university’s care. That one was particularly rewarding, as not only were we able to recover nearly the whole text, identify the work to which it belonged (Richard FitzRalph’s Summa Questionibus Armenorum), and trace some of its provenance and history as an object, we also found that it was the only witness to that text in a non-European library — and very possibly the oldest extant witness.
This month on Around the
Table, I have the pleasure of sharing a conversation with architectural
Milne. She was introduced to an early modern English manuscript in the
archives while researching another project. That text, the Dinner Book of the London
Drapers’ Company, grew into a project of its own, and her newly-published edition
is sure to be of great interest to historians of architecture, civic life, and
food. In April, her research came full circle as she publicly launched her book
at the site of the dining in the manuscript: Drapers’
Hall in London. Following my conversation below, Recipes Project editor Lisa Smith, who was able to
attend the book launch, shares some comments about the presentation.
Could you describe the Dinner Book and how you
found it? On what type of project were you working?
unusually, I first came across the Dinner Book as a postgraduate architecture
student trying to get to grips with the City of London as a place, so that I
could design for it effectively. Walking around its streets, I identified the
livery company (guild) halls as important footholds, entry points into the
guilds themselves, and I set myself the task of designing a new livery hall for
recently formed guilds. It did not take me long to figure out that one of the
focal-points of company life was the annual ‘Election Dinner’, when new leaders
of the companies were invested in their new roles at grand dinners held in the
halls. For me, in representing guild hierarchies structured within the hall, this
was a critical moment to design for, and I was keen to research the history of
dinners as much as I could in order to uncover the meaning and cultural context
of these long-standing events. To be honest, my design project was over and
done with far too quickly, but I was able to develop my interest through a
written dissertation. Influenced by Carolyn Steele’s writing on how food shapes
cities, I wrote to a number of guild archivists enquiring records which would
give me insight into the sorts of foods presented at the dining tables of the
Election Dinners. I was intrigued by the mercantile guilds’ attitudes to ‘new
world’ products, and the extent to which dinners were experimental or
conservative. Penny Fussell at the Drapers’ Company invited me to visit
Drapers’ Hall to see a document she thought I might be interested in. That was
the Dinner Book.
At the time
I encountered it, I didn’t really have the skillset to deal with it
effectively, I was not trained in palaeography for a start, but I knew that
this account book seemed rare and important. Spanning from 1564–1602, though
mostly weighted towards the 1560s and 1570s, it listed the foods, drinks,
suppliers, servants, attendees and their positions within Drapers’ Hall at a
series of Election Dinners. For me at that time, the potential of the document was
to ground City sociability in a place, a space and a time, allowing for
present-day dinners to be read through the lens of the past. Slowly but surely
I made progress in making sense of the document.
It was only
many years afterwards during my PhD, and several drafts of transcriptions of
the Dinner Book later, that I was able to say with more certainty why this book
was important for early modern historians, and suggest its significance for
food historians. The period covered by the Dinner Book was one of particular
instability and change in the City. The Drapers’ dinner records for the closing
decades of the sixteenth century indicate that livery companies recognised the
potential of their annual Election Dinners to reinforce the antiquity of
corporate authority, inferring a mythical past as a means of legitimizing their
stake in the future. Naturally, the food presented was implicated in this
endeavour, and mostly tended towards traditionally high-status meats such as
It is interesting how such a beautiful space
(Drapers’ Hall) has such a rich accompanying textual history; that is not
always the case! Is this kind of menu book unique to the Drapers? Do you know
of other examples of similar guild records (in London or elsewhere),
particularly ones accompanying an existing architectural space?
Great Twelve Companies shared a common culture of dining and a concern for
their orchestration, it does appear that The Dinner Book is the only coherently
detailed document which accounts for a series of these sorts of dinners. It seems
to have been produced as a sort of aide memoire to inform the planning of
future dinners as well as giving an account of what was spent year by year. There
may well have been other Dinner Books, but they have not survived, excepting
one very partial record from the late seventeenth century. In individual guild
archives and at the Guildhall, the odd account of comparable Election Dinners
of other companies can be found, but nothing quite matches the Dinner Book.
I am very
thankful for the ways in which the Drapers’ Company accommodated me in their
Hall over many years. To be able to research the Dinner Book in near enough the
same location as it was produced, and the kitchens where the dinners actually
prepared, was quite special. Indeed, though Drapers’ Hall has been rebuilt many
times, the memory of the sixteenth-century Hall persists in the arrangement of
interior spaces, so that the present-day main hall where the dinners were eaten
is effectively in the same location, and of a similar scale, as it was at the
time the Dinner Book was written-up. Other companies too retain Halls, though
none survive from the sixteenth century (excepting the fifteenth-century kitchens
of the Merchant Taylors’
Has working with the Dinner Book influenced your
other research interests and recent projects?
encounter with the Dinner Book affected the trajectory of my working life quite
significantly. From a focus on architectural design, I shifted to focus on
architectural history, understanding that the two need to be held in tension,
especially when the complexity of a city like London is in view. If it is not
already apparent, I should clarify that I take architecture to be a broad
discipline concerned with how space is produced by many hands over time. Architecture
is always relational, contingent, and, at its heart, it is really about people.
In this way, the study of food exchanges and dining practices can be very
relevant to urban and architectural historians interested in working from the
inside out of buildings, or thinking about flows of traded goods in the city
more generally. Indeed, I feel strongly that the link between designers,
urbanists and architects on the one hand, and historians on the other, needs to
be cultivated so that cities can be acted within and planned for with
sensitivity and wisdom. Spatial ‘micro-histories’ can be very effective in
engaging a broad-range of people in deep conversations about the way cities
change over the long-term.
Now I work
for the Survey
of London, a group of historians who write histories of London’s built
environment, paying attention to all sorts of stories of the capital city and
addressing a huge range of buildings past and present. We tend to work parish
by parish, and currently I am working on an especially experimental project
centred on Whitechapel in East London. We have taken a participatory approach
to this project, inviting the public and professionals to enter into dialogue
with us and each other about the area, sharing their research, memories and
archives, as we share our findings, all framed within the context of a
digitally accessible online map.
Speaking to people, it is amazing to see how often food or dining comes up,
especially in relation to migrant experiences of settlement and inter-cultural
exchanges. We have been especially excited to commission a film about the local
South Asian restaurant trade – Changing Tastes.
Thanks, Sarah, for chatting with me about such an interesting project! You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahannmilne.
And now, Lisa Smith’s
comments on the book launch.
On April 8, I had the pleasure visiting the Drapers’ Hall in
London to celebrate a book launch for Sarah Milne’s edited volume of The Dinner Book of the London Drapers’
Company 1564-1602. Although I’ve visited a range of splendid medical
buildings, from the Royal College of Surgeons (London) to the Académie
Nationale de Médecine (Paris), this was my first experience of an actual London
guild hall. To say that the Drapers’ Hall is very grand would be an
understatement; the marks of power, pomp, and ceremony remain visible to
historians, even if the main hall is now bookable for wedding receptions.
In the introduction to The
Dinner Book, Dr Milne describes the ‘theatre of hospitality’; beyond the
grandeur of a hall, the guild displayed its wealth through elaborate feasts. At
the Election Dinner of 1564, for example, the first course included foods like
swans, pikes, venison pasties, and custards; the second course included lighter
foods, from quails to marchipane; and the banquet course was comprised of sweet
items, like spicebread, wafers, fruits, and hippocras. The necessity of luxury
was so important that the guild hall even had a separate space for preparing the
banquet course—the hippocras house, which was staffed by three servants during
the 1564 dinner.
There is no modern-day hippocras house, but the book launch
took place in the same room as the early modern great hall. A modern chef
attempted to recapture some of the early modern flavours for us, too, with
treats such as venison pasties and pottage…
In her talk, Dr Milne discussed the complicated nature of
space and public activities in early modern London; the domestic, social, and
business worlds co-existed behind the guild hall gates. The great hall may have
been used for corporate assemblies, but the courtyard house was the Master’s
residence. The parlour was the site of the guild’s day-to-day business. Corporate
celebrations, such as Election Dinners, included entire families: widows,
wives, and occasionally young children. And the garden provided the fruits,
nuts, and herbs used in creating grand dinners.
The Dinner Book is a wonderful window into the food, people, and activities of an early modern guild hall, listing as it does the foods served, the people paid, and the activities undertaken. In preparation for the feast dinner of 6 August 1571, for example, we learn that Treacle the Cook spent two days preparing the meal; that Mr Crowley preached for two days; that the Master Wardens’ wives sold the hall comfits and biscuits; that the grocer Henry Falks provided a substantial amount of luxury spices and dried fruit; and that the hall bought eighty pounds of butter from the market.
Thanks, Lisa! If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.
Museums have increasingly been highlighting food, culinary,
and dining history in their exhibition schedules. The upcoming months prove to
be very exciting for those of us interested in such topics, as museums
internationally have planned a wonderful array of exhibits. If your conference,
research, or personal travel plans take you to any of the cities below, consider
stopping by an exhibit. Be sure to check the websites for full exhibit descriptions,
as well as visitor information such as hours, fees, and directions. We also
welcome readers to share your trips to any museums and exhibits of interest to
the Recipes Project community on Twitter
The exhibition “Feeding History” at
the British Museum focuses on five objects, exploring the relationship between
food, power, and control. The display juxtaposes ancient and contemporary
objects to explore issues surrounding food production and control of food
resources. The focus of the display is a contemporary sculpture, Anti Social Wild West Weaving (c. 2000), by Native American artist Pat Courtney Gold. Her work
represents the barbed-wire fences used on the North American prairies, simultaneously
allowing settlers to claim the land for ranching and farming and restricting
Native Americans from accessing their ancestral land. The four ancient objects
include an Egyptian wooden plough handle (1550–1069 BC), an Egyptian model of
butchers preparing meat (c. 1850 BC), a gilded silver vase with a grape
harvesting scene (possibly from Iran, 500–700), and a Ming dynasty porcelain
serving dish decorated with grapes (1403–1424). Through this combination of
works, the exhibition explores the origins of farming and the inequality
between the wealthy landowning minority and the impoverished working majority. Furthermore,
the exhibition stresses that feeding the world is closely connected to issues
of power, politics, and economics.
Durham Cathedral’s museum experience, Open Treasure,
currently features an exhibition, “Feasting and Fasting,” exploring the history
of the Cathedral’s fourteenth-century Great Kitchen. The octagonal kitchen,
completed in 1370, was active for over 570 years. It was the site of food
preparations for everyone who lived and worked at the Cathedral; daily meals
and grand feasts alike were prepared here. Visitors can learn about the food
consumed by Benedictine monks of Durham Priory and discover what
was eaten at the Cathedral’s lavish banquets. The highlights
of “Feasting and Fasting” are the recipe collections on display, including the The Art of Cookery by John Thacker, cook
to the Dean and Chapter from 1739–1758. After exploring the exhibit, visitors
can continue through the museum into the Great Kitchen, which now houses the
Anglo-Saxon Treasures of St. Cuthbert.
Nestled in the idyllic Belgian
countryside, Gaasbeek Castle is home to a museum, park, and gardens. The Museum
Garden alone may be of interest to Recipes Project readers: it contains many
traditional and rare fruit and vegetable varietals, featuring espaliered fruits.
The museum inside Gaasbeek Castle, however, is currently hosting an exhibition
rooted in the work of Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel. In “Feast of Fools,”
visitors experience a series of contemporary and modern inspired
by Bruegel. Among many other works, the exhibition presents a virtual reality
installation by the Berlin-based theatre company, Rimini Protokoll, focused
on the contemporary food industry titled “Feast of Food.” In his works, Bruegel
depicted the farmers who fed local consumers. In the twenty-first century,
Bruegel’s farmers have been replaced by high-tech agro-industries and most
consumers now ignore the origins of their food. Rimini Protokoll helps visitors
explore what farming and food production look like today. Through virtual
reality, visitors are immersed in modern sites of food production, including
Rungis, the biggest food market in the world, located near Paris, a gigantic
slaughterhouse in Bavaria, and plantations in Almería.
FOOD: Bigger than the Plate is poised
to be a significant exhibition at the V&A on a variety of food topics
(including food history). It will feature over seventy contemporary
projects, new commissions and creative collaborations by artists, designers, chefs,
farmers, scientists and local communities. The exhibition will explore how individuals,
communities and organizations are re-inventing how we experience food. FOOD
leads visitors through the food cycle, from “Compost” to “Farming” to “Trading”
to “Eating.” Visitors will even experience several installations physically
growing in the gallery space. These projects will sit alongside thirty objects
from the V&A collections, including early food advertisements,
illustrations, and ceramics, providing historical context to the contemporary
exhibits. The V&A has also released information about a
number of early events related to the exhibit, including a Curators’
Talk and a Food Styling
and Photography Workshop. Readers can receive an early bird offer of 40%
off individual advance tickets using promo code FOOD40 at check out. Note that
this offer is available for a limited time only and please review the terms
The Ashmolean Museum at the
University of Oxford has scheduled an exhibition delving into a story of the
foods loved and consumed by the people of the ancient Roman town of Pompeii. This
southern Italian resort town was located between vineyards, orchards, and the
Bay of Naples; its people produced wine, olive oil, and garum (a fish sauce)
for consumers around the Mediterranean. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in the
first century, people in Pompeii were eating, drinking, and producing food,
like any other day. Much evidence has been preserved about the food in this
town, such as mosaics in villas and the remains found in kitchen drains. The
exhibition will feature many objects on loan from Naples and Pompeii which have
never left Italy. The items range from the luxury furnishings of Roman dining
rooms to the carbonized food that was on the table when the volcano erupted. Accompanying
the exhibition is the forthcoming publication of Last Supper in Pompeii (Ashmolean
Museum, 2019) by Paul Roberts, the Sackler
Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean. Included in the book is new research
based on the excavation of drains and rubbish pits and the excavation of a
Roman vineyard between Vesuvius and Pompeii.
The Museum of European Cultures, one of the Berlin State Museums, hosts a permanent exhibition “Cultural Contacts: Living in Europe” which examines discussions on social movements and boundaries. Tied to the permanent exhibition, “Café Europe: Food Ties,” is a temporary exhibition with accompanying special events exploring trans-regional and international influences on the culinary arts. As mobility has continued to increase across Europe, so too has culinary migration. Diets have both assimilated many influences and changed significantly in recent decades. Be sure to check the website as “Café Europe” approaches for more information about cooperating partners and scheduled special events.
If you’d like to feature a museum exhibition or
collection on the Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.