Around the Table: Publisher Chat

Welcome to the latest Around the Table! I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Karen Merikangas Darling, an Executive Editor in the Books Division at the University of Chicago Press, about the process of publishing recipes-related research.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat! First, could you tell me more about your role at the University of Chicago Press?

Thank you for inviting me! I am one of fourteen acquiring editors at the University of Chicago Press. The Press was one of three original divisions of the University when it was founded in 1890. Although for a year or two it functioned only as a printer, in 1892 the Press began publishing scholarly books and journals, making it one of the oldest continuously operating university presses in the United States. We publish significant scholarly and nonspecialist (trade) books by authors from within and beyond the academy; translations of important foreign-language texts, both historical and contemporary; and essential reference works, such as the Chicago Manual of Style – now in its 17th edition. In all of this, the Press is guided by the judgment of individual editors who work to build a broad but coherent publishing program engaged with authors and readers around the world.

Jennifer Rampling, The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300-1700 (University of Chicago Press, 2020).

Specifically, acquisitions editors are responsible for publishing “lists,” or collections of books in certain areas: my areas include the history of science, medicine, technology, and the environment, as well as philosophy, sociology, and anthropology of science, medicine, and technology. Sometimes we sponsor book series within our areas. For example, in partnership with the Science History Institute and an excellent Series Board, I publish books in our Synthesis series, which focuses on the history of chemistry, broadly construed.

Day-to-day, my role is to shepherd books from idea into print. Acquisitions editors evaluate proposals for books that arrive unsolicited in our inboxes, but we also seek out and invite projects that we think might result in exciting books for the Press. We work closely with authors to develop their manuscripts so that they reach their full potential. As a university press, part of this involves steering promising projects through peer review.

UChicago Press has a reputation in the Recipes Project community for publishing scholarship showcasing very high-quality recipes-related research. Your catalogue includes topics as varied as studies of vaccine and medicine development, modern industrial food systems, early modern household recipe books, and even a study of medieval feasts. Could you describe the types of research and writing the UChicago Press seeks to publish?

Paul Fehribach, The Big Jones Cookbook: Recipes for Savoring the Heritage of Regional Southern Cooking (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

I appreciate how the Recipes Project community is attentive to the many ways recipes feature in our books! Researchers have drawn on and discussed—and on occasion ingeniously recreated—recipes in books on topics as varied as travel and tourism and musicology. But most of our work with recipes is historical, contributing to art history, historical geography, American and environmental history, and the history of science, medicine, and technology. And, of course, gastronomy itself, as in our Big Jones Cookbook!

We do not have a dedicated food studies editor at Chicago, but my colleagues and I are drawn to work that approaches all range of questions from innovative angles, and deep dives into recipes, as your readers know well, is a wonderfully vivid way to recreate everyday experiences. Analyzing recipes and, relatedly, actual experiments and instruments, is also, I believe, an especially fruitful way to get at what was really going on when people practiced alchemy, science, or medicine before our modern times. Recipe research resonates with a general interest in embodiment, and across our acquisitions areas we share an enthusiasm for work that brings to the fore the senses and lenses of gender and sexuality, race, and disability studies.

Could you help our readers navigate the active UChicago series and subjects related to recipes?

Elaine Leong, Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

Yes! The best way to approach this is to think about who your book is for. Aspirational answers like “everyone!” are not going to be of much help, so try to think about the main message of your book and then ask questions of yourself like these: Who cares about this? Who needs to know this? Who would find this interesting? If we look at Elaine Leong’s book Recipes and Everyday Knowledge as an example, we might say “historians of early modern science and medicine,” “family and gender studies scholars,” and “recipe-researchers.” These answers are useful because they locate the book’s specific contribution in ongoing conversations across fields, methodological approaches, and individuals’ interests.

The acquisitions editor who handles the areas that are most squarely represented by your answers is the one to approach with your book proposal. Every press website will have pages that introduce the editors and outline their areas and interests, and from these personal statements or descriptions you can figure out not only who to reach out to but also, and importantly, whether the press has a commitment to and presence in your specific area. It is important to you, your book, and the press that your manuscript have support from the surrounding titles the press publishes, so look around to see who publishes the books most relevant to your own and start there.

How does UChicago Press solicit and review publications for proposals? Is it helpful for scholars interested in publishing with UChicago to first reach out to a specific editor? Are there any aspects of UChicago’s process that are particularly notable or different from other presses?

Please reach out to us! We welcome it. Along with information about who to contact, every press will provide guidance online about how to do it in “information for prospective authors” or “submission guidelines.” Generally, what we would like to see is a letter of introduction, CV, and book prospectus. The latter includes a general project overview, annotated table of contents, description of audience and related work, and particulars about time to completion, production needs, and any other special circumstances. This is standard across presses, because these documents give us what we need to evaluate how well your work might fit on our lists. In short, they tell us what your book is about and how it is structured, who you aim to reach with it, and why you are well positioned to write it.

(As a tip: because recipe work can be quite interdisciplinary, I should reiterate that at any one press, please send your work to only one editor. It is perfectly fine to say, “my book might also be of interest to your colleague who works with reference books,” but please, in the interest of efficiency (and our sanity!), please do not write to both of us at once.)

We also are happy to begin discussions with authors early in the process—we may even contact you if we see a news piece, article, blog, review, poster, talk, or hear about your work from a trusted colleague or advisor—so don’t be afraid to approach us at conferences or reach out for a quick chat. We may do the same!

The Recipes Project community includes many graduate students and early career researchers. Do you have any general advice for these scholars as they plan and try to publish their first books, whether it is with UChicago or another press?

Good question. My main advice is to think of your book apart from your other writing. Figure out what your institution needs from your thesis or dissertation and work with your advisor or committee to provide that. A dissertation is not a book. So I recommend keeping a separate folder of ideas for the book. If your dissertation focuses on one archive, begin to think about how the book might fold in research from others to stretch its scope, geographically or temporally, or both. If your thesis revises previous work by making a careful case against another scholar’s reading of sources, this is likely something to excise from the book and publish as an article.

The idea is to think big about the book, and when you’re early in your career, an easy way to make headway on this is to listen. Listen to what others say when you talk about your work. How do they connect it to their own interests? What do they pick out as being most interesting or significant in what you are up to? Listening to their answers can help you plan your next steps. And so can talking with an editor!

Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you today.

Thank you, Karen, for chatting about publishing practices at University of Chicago Press! If you would like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: Museum Chat

Welcome to the latest Around the Table! Today we have a chat about the recipes-related collections at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., especially the National Museum of American History (NMAH)! I am delighted to speak with Ashley Rose Young, Historian in the NMAH Division of Work and Industry, and Paula Johnson, Curator in the NMAH Division of Work and Industry.

The Smithsonian has many items of interest to our readership, particularly in the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), National Museum of American History (NMAH), and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Within the collections at all three museums are impressive holdings of items related to recipes research. Could you provide a brief overview of the Smithsonian’s collections related to recipes?

Paula Johnson: Researching recipes at the Smithsonian Institution is a complex endeavor, but one that has the potential for great rewards. With nineteen museums and research bureaus, plus pan-institutional libraries and archives, a veritable trove of material covering an astonishing array of culinary-related subjects awaits the intrepid researcher. While each museum has its own physical branch library, the consolidated digital catalog contains records for all Smithsonian holdings. A useful overview of the institution’s libraries and archives can be found here

My long experience with Smithsonian collections is based almost entirely on the holdings of the National Museum of American History (NMAH), which houses significant collections of artifacts, documents, books, ephemera, and digital material reflecting many broad areas of culinary history. Among the diverse food-related collections are many that contain recipes, although that may not be apparent at a glance. Due to different cataloging protocols for objects, archives, and libraries over the institution’s 175-year-history, researchers need to think broadly about search terms and pack some patience when accessing the collections. While catalogs and finding aids are key to a researcher’s success, there’s always the possibility of serendipity, as in this item we located in the Smithsonian Archives, a “Receipt Book” for medicinal and dietary uses, kept by James Smithson, the British scientist whose bequest established the Smithsonian Institution in 1846. The handwritten receipts are mostly for simple candies and spirits, including “Pate de Jujubes,” “Usquebaugh,” and various cordials. 

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7000, James Smithson Collection. Research photo*

In the NMAH collections, recipes can be found in historic cookbooks that are held by the main research library as well as the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. A significant number of books and pamphlets was donated to the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) by the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC, and that collection continues to grow, courtesy of CHOW. The library also holds a large collection of trade literature and product cookbooks that contain recipes and can be accessed here.

The NMAH Archives Center houses many food history-related collections, including some that contain recipes. Although the word “recipe” may not appear in the record title or even the description, it is possible to access recipes (and marvelous related material) via creative searching. Some highlights include the Pillsbury Bake-off Collection and the Nordic Ware Papers, which include recipe pamphlets from the “Maid of Scandinavia” line of cookware, the forerunner to the Nordic Ware brand, most famous for its Bundt cake pans.

As a curator, I collect objects and archival documents for the museum, and over the years I have brought several collections into the museum that include recipes. A recent example is the Mollie Katzen collecting documenting the development of her Moosewood Cookbook. In addition to the original artwork and early, spiral-bound edition of the book (1974), the collection includes Katzen’s detailed estimates of the cost of each ingredient in each recipe and other papers containing recipe notes. My favorite part of the collection are the letters written to Katzen by fans, some of whom were enthusiastic converts to vegetarian cooking. These documents provide both context and texture to the recipes.

The Archives Center also houses documents collected from the recipients of the Julia Child Award, presented annually since 2015 by the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. Among them is a journal of field notes kept by Chef Rick Bayless, as he and his wife Deann traveled through Mexico in the early 1980s to research regional ingredients, dishes, and cooking techniques.  These field notes became the foundation for Bayless’ first book, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (1987).

Rick Bayless field notes, early 1980s. Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Another wonderful and perhaps unexpected document is contained in the Paul Ma Papers, collected from Paul and Linda Ma, a Chinese American couple who operated successful restaurants in the West Chester area of New York, beginning in the 1980s. A well-used, handwritten booklet features recipes for the basic dishes and sauces the Mas remembered from home after migrating to the United States around 1964.  With recipes and notes written in both Chinese and English, and with sauce stains identifying the most favored recipes, the booklet also provides insight into the context of Ma’s restaurant menu and cooking.

Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Paul Ma Paper. Research photo.

Occasionally there are recipes filed as “reference material” associated with accessioned objects and these can sometimes be difficult to find without curatorial staff assistance. An example are the thirty-three recipe cards donated by La Deva Davis, an African American teacher whose 1976 television show, “What’s Cooking?” aired on PBS through station WHYY in Wilmington, DE. Donated along with three aprons La Deva Davis wore on the show, the cards provide a record of the dishes she demonstrated (“low cost, high nutrition cooking”), including “Oriental Beef Stew,” “Liptauer Cheese,” and “Think Thin Salad.”

Finally, a note about beer. Our colleague Theresa McCulla, curator of the museum’s American Brewing History Initiative, has collected beer recipes from the individuals who shaped the modern home brewing and craft beer industries.  A couple of examples are included in the museum’s exhibition, FOOD: Transforming the American Table Theresa’s work has also inspired a great deal of interest in some of the older brewing history collections at the museum and for one beer historian, the Archives Center yielded recipe gold. As he was researching the Walter H. Voigt Brewing Industry Collection, the researcher found a 1930 recipe for Bock beer that called for corn, rice, and sugar scribbled on a piece of paper. In 2019, brewers at Denizens Brewing Co. in Silver Spring, Maryland, created an American bock from the recipe found in the NMAH Archives Center.   

You have been creating a lot of programming around food culture in recent years at the Smithsonian-could you talk about that and how you have adapted during the COVID-19 closures this year?

Ashley Rose Young: The American Food History Project at NMAH hosts a variety of public programs including Cooking Up History, Deep-Dish Dialogues, Roundtables, Conversation Circles, Brewing History After Hours, Ask a Farmer, and more. Additionally, during our annual Food History Weekend, we invite community leaders, food practitioners, activists, academics, policy makers, and the public to come together to discuss a central theme in American history and in our current moment.

Recently, while planning for the all-virtual 2020 Food History Weekend, “Food Futures: Striving for Justice,” we took inspiration from what we saw in our research and collecting around COVID-19: that people are looking ahead with energy and hope for creating better systems and more innovative and humane solutions that will address long-term needs when we emerge from these unprecedented conditions. That weekend, our Cooking Up History programs featured chefs who each shared and prepared a recipe and spoke about its traditional and contemporary significance to food justice. Chef Nico Albert of the Cherokee Nation, for example, prepared Sumac-Crusted Trout with Sauteed Mushrooms and Greens, and guided audiences through foraging for sumac and greens, while also speaking about the culinary heritage of the Cherokee people. She emphasized that retaining and celebrating traditional foodways was a means of securing food sovereignty for indigenous communities across the U.S.

YouTube video of “Cooking Up History: Culinary Traditions within the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma with Chef Nico Albert”

As with Chef Nico’s demonstration, all of our Cooking Up History programs are centered around recipes, the history and traditions behind their ingredients, culinary techniques, and enjoyment. The recipes and descriptions of each event can be found on our website under “Past Demos and Recipes.”

Guest Chefs Aisha Alfadhalah and Iman Alshehab of the Mera Kitchen Collective with Ashley Rose Young during a 2019 “Cooking Up History” program. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

For 2021, we are currently developing new models to bring Cooking Up History and other food history programs to digital audiences throughout the year. Please visit our website this spring for updates.

What tips can you offer to help users find collection items? Is it possible to search all of the Smithsonian’s holdings at once, or do researchers need to look at the individual museums?

Ashley Rose Young: I had a chance to reach out to Alison Oswald, an archivist at the Archives Center at NMAH, for tips on how to navigate the vast collections of the Smithsonian, which, admittedly, can be somewhat daunting given the volume of material available. Alison noted that the data related to our collections are exported into the Collections Search Center (CSC), and the CSC is a good place for researchers to start when they want to search across the Smithsonian including all museums, archives, libraries, and research units.

Researchers can also search finding aids in Smithsonian archives by visiting the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA). Some finding aids include digitized content linked at collection, series, and folder level.

Alison also provided a few tips on how to make the best of your searches on CSC and SOVA:

  • It can help to use quotes (“ ”) around the key word/search term and to make use of the facets, which allow you to limit a search. For example, “recipes” in SOVA yields 214 collection level records, but if you wanted to know what kind of recipes the National Museum of Air and Space has, you can limit it by selecting archival repository and you get 4 collections.
  • Researchers should also try a variety of terms when searching. Recipes is a pretty specific term so starting broader with cookbooks, cookery, cooking, baking, etc. can be useful. Most catalogs do something called “stemming” which is when the catalog searches for the “root” of a word and displays all words with that stem. For example, the word “searching” or “search” or “searches” all stem to “search”.

Last but not least, Alison noted that catalogs are works in progress that are constantly evolving, and that the Smithsonian welcomes feedback from researchers to make our catalogs better.

For researchers who have projects and interests spanning multiple museums within the Smithsonian, how do you recommend they go about searching for pertinent materials?

Paula Johnson: This is such an important issue and one we have explored recently through a special collaboration with colleagues in the UK and the US, with support from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. While this initiative has been the subject of previous posts, I’ll simply share that we worked with graduate student researchers from the Boston University Program in Gastronomy to test the ease and challenges of conducting food-related subject searches across the Smithsonian’s consolidated digital collections catalogs. The resulting white paper, “Looking for Food in the New Smithsonian Institution Catalog,” is under review and will help inform how we can improve cataloging to make materials more accessible across subject areas.

How much of the Smithsonian’s holdings are digitized? What other digital resources and events are available?

Ashley Rose Young: I also had the opportunity to touch base with Sherri Berger, the head of NMAH’s Digital Programs Office, about the Smithsonian’s digital offerings. Sherri noted that as of 2019, the Smithsonian holds 155.4 million museum objects and specimens, about 19 million of which have been digitized; 1.2 million library volumes, about 760,000 of which have been either fully or partially digitized; and 163,000 cubic feet of archival material, with 5.6 million digitized items. For ways to learn about and access these materials, please see our answer to question 3.

In addition to these materials, the Smithsonian hosts numerous virtual events. You can learn about NMAH’s food history offering by signing up to our newsletter and selecting “food history” as a topic of interest.

We also have recordings of past events available online. You can watch our 2020 Food History Weekend programming and other food-related events on our YouTube “food history” playlist.

Does the Smithsonian offer any fellowships or grants for researchers?

Ashley Rose Young: The Smithsonian offers research fellowships to graduate students, predoctoral students, and postdoctoral and senior investigators to conduct independent research and to utilize the resources of the Institution with members of the Smithsonian professional research staff serving as advisors and hosts. These fellowships are offered through the Smithsonian’s Office of Fellowships and Internships, and are administered under the charter of the Institution, 20 U.S. Code section 41 et seq. You can learn more about our fellowship program here.

*Several photos in this post were taken by research staff and are not official scans provided by the Smithsonian museums and archives. Because the Smithsonian research facilities have been closed due to the pandemic, we are not able to provide proper scans.

Thanks, Ashley and Paula, for chatting about recipes resources at the Smithsonian Institution! You can find Ashley on Twitter @ashleyroseyoung and Instagram @ashleyroseyoung. Theresa McCulla, brewing history coordinator, is on Twitter @theresamccu. You can also find NMAH on Twitter @amhistorymuseum, Instagram @amhistorymuseum, and Facebook @National Museum of American History. They tag their posts/tweets with #SmithsonianFood. If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: Digital Resources

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Since the COVID-19 pandemic restricted physical access to resources for teaching and research this spring, educational, research, and cultural institutions have been busy digitizing their collections and creating digital content to assist their patrons. This is a roundup of some recently digitized recipes-related materials and newly created digital content (like videos, exhibitions, and source guides), compiled with the assistance of the Recipes Project community on social media. Thank you to all who contributed! This list is incomplete, as hearty as it is. Also, some digital items have been around for several years, but have recently received an update or reorganization due to increased web traffic during the pandemic.

Crowdsourced Digital Resources

The Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) is hosting its annual Transcribathon in coordination with the Wellcome Library and the Royal College of Physicians on 4 March. This is a great opportunity to delve into some digitized early modern English recipe books and transcribe the text to benefit researchers and students alike! For details and updates, visit the EMROC website.

The Sifter, an online database of culinary writing, especially cookbooks and recipes, is now publicly available after years of development. Free for all users, it is a tool in finding, identifying, and comparing historical culinary texts. It currently includes over 5,000 works in multiple languages. Registered users can also populate The Sifter with texts and information, in addition to using the database for research.

Videos

The William Andrews Clark Jr. Memorial Library launched a web series titled “Bad Taste, where we explore what it truly means to be disgusted.” Each episode documents the process of recreating and tasting a historical recipe which seems “disgusting” to modern palates. Episode 1 is about an eighteenth-century recipe for toast water.

The Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library launched a series of brief collection presentation videos in coordination with the recent conference Food and the Book: 1300 to 1800. Each of the five videos highlights a food-related early modern resource in the Newberry’s collections.

English Heritage’s History at Home presents an array of digital content, especially videos, related to English Heritage sites and programming. The site contains videos on Georgian makeup application, Victorian cooking, and grand historic feasts. The site is also family-friendly, with content like coloring pages for children, and tours of historic sites.

Refashioning the Renaissance’s website contains an engaging archive of the project’s activities and experiments involving historic textiles, dyes, fabric cleaning, and fragrances. Many of the documented experiments include brief video summaries, which can be very helpful in digital classroom settings. The project also has blog posts and a podcast to introduce new audiences to these topics.

Digital Collections and Exhibitions

Transcriptions of over eighty manuscript recipe books at the Folger Shakespeare Library are available for full text search in the Folger Manuscript Transcriptions collection. The collection is added to on a regular basis.

The Library of Congress has long hosted a collection of digitized Community Cookbooks; it has been consistently updated since its originally posting in 2009. Here you can find links to nineteenth- and twentieth-century community cookbooks from the United States. In addition to searching for specific items, you can also sort the collection by place or date.

The National Library of Medicine has gathered links to their digital projects, exhibitions, and collections onto a single page. Here you can find links to their digital collections (which include many digitized manuscript recipe books) and exhibitions ranging from the consumption of intoxicants as medical prescriptions and Food and Enslavement in Early America.

Lifting the Lid: 400 Years of Food and Drink in Scotland is an online exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in 2015. It explored 400 years of Scottish food history, telling the story of Scotland’s relationship with food and drink. Here you can find digitized recipes for turtle soup and curry powder, as well as the library’s Burnfoot family recipe books, which include the same recipes by different people over four generations.

An Image from the Newberry Library’s Digital Collection for the Classroom on Foods of the Columbian Exchange. Thomas Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (1590). Used with permission through a Creative Commons Public Domain license.

The Newberry Library’s Digital Collections for the Classroom contains a wide range of digitized primary source collections for teaching based on collection items at the Newberry. While many collections only mention recipes-related materials in passing, some collections are more explicitly connected, like those on the Discovery of Chocolate, Foods of the Columbian Exchange, and the Medieval Spice Trade.

The New York Academy of Medicine has just posted a new digital collection, Recipes and Remedies: Manuscript Cookbooks. This digital collection boasts eleven fully digitized manuscript recipe books of the NYAM’s physical collection of approximately forty.

The Mexican Cookbook Collection at UTSA Libraries includes a breathtaking array of texts, many available online. Now the collection is even more accessible to public audiences through their recent outreach effort, Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus. Visit the link to find booklets of updated recipes, published in Spanish and English, picked from the collection’s many options.

Digitized Materials

First introduced to the Recipes Project in this 2019 blog post by Rachel Rich and Lisa Smith, the English royal household’s menus for each day when they were in residence at Kew Palace between 1788 and 1801 is now digitized and available on Adam Crymble’s website.

Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has been busily digitizing since the pandemic began and have kept readers updated about their progress through blog posts. Their most recent includes mention of several items of interest to the Recipes Project community, including fragments of medical encyclopedias, alchemical texts, and instruction on the “treatment of eye sores.”

Digital Collection Guides and Compilations of Resources

McMaster University History of Medicine has compiled a list of digital exhibits based at institutions in North America and Europe. This list is organized into an array of medical history topics, ranging from Canadian cookbooks, significant works of the Renaissance, and Ancient and Classical medicine.

The British Library has just published a collection guide for Food History: Archives and Manuscripts. The guide highlights several physical and digital items at the British Library related to food history; however, the guide is limited to the library’s holdings from the seventeenth through twentieth centuries.

Several institutional libraries have created and updated online resources lists for teaching food history. Examples include lists at the Culinary Institute of American, Marshall University, and Virginia Tech.

Thank you to everyone who contributed a digital resource to include in this post! If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: Events

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Last month, many Recipes Project contributors and readers participated in a virtual conference on Food and the Book: 1300-1800. This exciting event, spread out in sessions over two weeks, was co-sponsored by the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library and Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, a Mellon Foundation initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. I had the pleasure of co-organizing the conference along with David Goldstein and Allen Grieco. Many individuals at the Newberry Library and on the Before Farm to Table team were involved with the planning and execution of this conference, including our very own Recipes Project co-editor Amanda Herbert.

Food and the Book was planned as an interdisciplinary conference which examined the book as a primary intersection for foodways throughout the premodern world. Focused primarily on Europe, the conference examined the language and imagery of food in all kinds of books, including printed cookbooks, manuscript recipe books, literature, historical documents, religious writings, medical treatises, and engravings.

Although the conference had originally been planned as an in-person event, the arrival of COVID-19 necessitated a virtual format. And while many things could have gone awry, the conference appeared to run effortlessly thanks to a flurry of behind-the-scenes technical work by so many at the Newberry and Folger. Each session had a large and enthusiastic audience, particularly our public sessions, which were hosted as Zoom webinars and live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube. Thanks to the widespread interest, the Q&A portions of sessions were lively and full of creative and interdisciplinary inquiry and suggestion.

A screenshot of Food and the Book’s first public session, “Cooking by the Book: A Conversation with Chefs and Writers.”

Two public sessions focusing on current food issues, particularly those of minority and marginalized communities, bookended the conference. The first, a session on food writing, featured a panel of distinguished food writers, historians, and chefs: Tamar Adler, Irina Dumitrescu, Paul Fehribach, and Michael Twitty. Their conversation, linking the premodern topics to be covered over the next two weeks to modern food writing, ranged from the definition of a recipe, hunger, and the pleasure of food. In the final public session, chef Sean Sherman and scholars Elizabeth Hoover and Eli Suzukovich III celebrated Indigenous food cultures. The panelists invited the audience to expand their notions of historical records and consider food beyond colonial contexts and frameworks. They each emphasized that the range of Indigenous culinary activities like food cultivation, cooking, and medicine, actively use a historical knowledge base carefully curated and preserved over time.

The remaining sessions featured innovative programming, incorporating not only a wide range of topics and scholars, but also a variety of formats, including presentations, roundtables, and seminar discussions of pre-circulated papers. In order to build a sense of community potentially lost by hosting a conference online, Food and the Book participants frequently live tweeted, transcribed part of Folger Library recipe book at a virtual Transcribathon with Heather Wolfe, enjoyed a virtual happy hour, and got a taste of the Newberry Library’s holdings of food-related books in brief video collection presentations. So, despite the challenges of a virtual conference in terms of creating community and networking, there were opportunities for personal engagement and conviviality.

The Recipes Project community is undoubtedly familiar with many of the Food and the Book’s thirty-five presenters, as they have frequently appeared on the Recipes Project as contributors. Just to provide a few examples, Marissa Nicosia and Molly Taylor-Poleskey discussed their work in roundtables on “Cookbooks and Recipe Books” and “Documenting Food History in Archival Sources.” Sara Pennell presented recent research on kitchen waste in early modern English households in a session about “Material Kitchens and the Social Life of Early Modern Food,” while Jennifer Park simultaneously delighted and disgusted the audience with her description of eating mummies in a broader discussion with Nicholas Jones and Gitanjali Shahani about “Race and Food in the Early Modern Book.” And in a discussion of pre-circulated papers on literary ecologies, Andy Crow, Madeline Bassnett, and Kathleen Long heartily considered topics ranging from rationing words and food in poetry, weather and climate concerns, and the excesses of Henri III’s court. Larger digital projects like CoReMA, EMROC, and the US-UK Food Digital Scholarship Network were also represented in a panel on “Digitizing Food and the Book.”

While the overall breadth of research throughout the conference was quite energizing, perhaps one of the particularly exciting points was the number of early career researchers and graduate students. ECRs were represented in many sessions and a graduate student lightning round featured the work of seven graduate students. These students, hailing from departments of history, literature, and archeology and institutions around the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany, demonstrate the long future ahead for research in food and the book.

The conference also revealed significant gaps in past and current research, and the need for inclusion of a more diverse body of scholars in this area of study. As evinced by the discussions of premodern racial and identity issues during Food and the Book, there is much more research in this area which can be done. Several sessions also highlighted gaps and drawbacks in both the accessibility of archival and special collections materials and efforts to mitigate accessibility concerns through digitization. There are many opportunities for growth and expansion of the study of food through books, and many prospects for collaboration and support of this scholarly community.

The Food and the Book conference may have concluded, but recordings of all the sessions are available on YouTube. Please watch what you can, and let’s continue the conversations started at the conference and communicate virtually (and hopefully again soon in person!) about all of the exciting research yet to be done.

Thanks to all involved in Food and the Book, including the presenters and the planning teams at the Newberry Library and Folger Institute, especially David Goldstein, Allen Grieco, Lia Markey and the Newberry’s Center for Renaissance Studies, Kathleen Lynch and the Folger Institute, and the Before Farm to Table Team, especially Amanda Herbert and Heather Wolfe! If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.