Introducing our new Twitter-guru!

Amanda, Lisa and I are delighted to welcome Laura Mitchell as our new twitter-guru. Some of you might already know Laura from our Facebook page. From this month onwards, Laura will also be sending out those 140 character notes, conversing with all of you in the twitter-sphere and keeping us up to date on all things recipe-related.

Above Alexis of Piedmont and Albertus Magnus; centre: William Harvey and Francos Bacon drawing aside a curtain to reveal secrets; below: Dr.R.Reade, Dr. John (Johann Jacob) Wecker and Ramund Lullius.
Wellcome Library, London Engraved title page to: Eighteen books of the secrets of art and nature, being the summe and substance of naturall philosophy, methodically digested …, London 1660.

Laura’s main research interests focus on charms, and more broadly magic, in later medieval England. Her 2011 dissertation “Cultural Uses of Magic in Fifteenth-century England” combined social/cultural history and book history to explore how medieval people used their books to present a certain image of themselves, and what role magic texts and charms played in that. She is currently branching out to examine books of secrets and networks/communities of exchange in fifteenth century England. Those of you lucky enough to be in Manchester for the ICHSTM last year might remember Laura’s paper on the notebook of Thomas Fayreford and networks of knowledge in late medieval Somerset and Devon. For all of you Tolkien fans, Laura’s chapter on magic and The Hobbit is coming out this fall – watch this space.

Recently, I put a few questions to Laura about her work on The Recipes Project. Here is a brief glimpse into our conversations…

Elaine: Hi Laura! Thank you for agreeing take-on the ‘historecipes’ twitter account! You’ve been an active member of The Recipes Project community since our launch in 2012. Can you tell us a little about what attracts you to the project?

Laura: I think what I like best about the Recipes Project is the huge range of topics that have come up! Victorian cosmetics, medicines from early modern China, mare’s milk, who knows what else will pop up. I’ve learned so much about so many different subjects in the past few years. I’ve really enjoyed this range too for giving me some insight into other scholar’s methodologies and work methods.

Elaine: Since completing your PhD, you’ve been actively working as a ‘digital humanist’. Could you tell us a little more about your projects and what attracts you to research in this area?

Laura: The Recipes Project, and my catalogue website, have been my only forays into digital humanities so far. I’ve attended some workshops on the digital humanities in medieval studies and there’s some great things that can be done now. There is a lot of new and interesting digital humanities projects coming out now and I’m looking forward to seeing where the field goes from here.

Elaine: So, Twitter. It seems like that’s the online place to be for historians nowadays! In the past couple of years, I have had so many interesting conversations with PhD students and post docs about the place of Twitter in academic conversations. What is your take on this?

Laura: Twitter is a great way to network online. There are a lot of historians on Twitter now who are lovely, friendly people. I’ve enjoyed using Twitter as a way of meeting new people and keeping in touch with new contacts I have made elsewhere. The 140 character limit may not seem like much, but a lot can be said in a few words, and I’ve had some great conversations there. It’s also helped me keep my writing succinct!

That’s it folks! Take some time off this month and come say hi to Laura on our twitter page.

Welcome to our new co-editor!

By Lisa Smith

Amanda Herbert, Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain (Yale University Press, 2014).
Amanda Herbert, Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain (Yale University Press, 2014).

Elaine Leong and I are delighted to welcome a new co-editor to The Recipes Project: Amanda Herbert! Many of you will already be familiar with her work, either through her blog posts here at The Recipes Project or from her wonderful new book Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain. I recently had the opportunity to ask Amanda a bit about her wide-ranging teaching and research interests in recipes. Without further ado, let me introduce you to Amanda–in her own words!

1. What interests you most about recipes? 

This is a very literal answer, but: the ingredients. (See, for example, “Early Modern Comfort Foods“.) They tell us an enormous amount about the material lives of the people who wrote, read, and used recipes. How much money did they have?  What was their educational, spiritual, and cultural background?  What sort of ecological or environmental landscape surrounded them?  And which trade routes and markets allowed them access to goods from abroad?  Recipe ingredients provide a wealth of usually inaccessible information about the lives and experiences of people in the past.

2. You recently had a book, Female Alliances, come out and have blogged a bit about women’s use of recipes and domestic production to foster those alliances. (See Amanda’s post on “Never Too Many Cooks”, Part 1 and Part 2.) What was your biggest surprise in your research on this topic?

While conducting research for the book, I was surprised (and delighted) to see how many times early modern British recipes referenced urban space and geography.  When women inscribed recipes into their manuscript collections, they often included information about which shopkeepers to trust, where to purchase rare or unusual ingredients, and how to travel the streets and alleys of early modern cities.  This allowed women to help one another in navigating the often male-dominated medical and culinary worlds of early modern Europe.  I think that there is much promising work to be done on the relationship between recipes and urban space.

3. As a researcher, what has been your favourite recipe book to use–and why?

It’s hard to choose, but I think that one of the most interesting, and also the most poignant, recipe books with which I’ve worked is the one that I blogged about in my very first post for the Recipes Project: the Charles Brigham Account book, held by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. The book (c. 1650-1730) was initially created in London, and then was carried across the Atlantic Ocean by its owners when they emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to become settlers in the “new world” of British North America. The book shows how the owners attempted to incorporate American plants and animals into their diets and medicines, and how they worked to maintain aspects of their old culture and life in their new home.  It’s an amazing resource.

4. You recently had a student write a post for Recipes Project on food in the American Civil War. How do you use recipes/food in your teaching? And why do you think this is important?

I love bringing historical recipes into the classroom.  Students in my classes have tasted eighteenth-century-style chocolate, they’ve done independent study projects on Civil War soldiers’ diets, and they’ve learned about (and used) early modern ink–a topic on which I’ll be writing in a future Recipes Project post!  Historically, recipes were critical to the way that people lived, worked, and survived in the past, and so I think that study of any historical period should include references to the foods, medicines, and crafts that were made and used by the historical actors under examination.  And pedagogically, recipes provide an excellent way for students to learn about close reading and analysis.  Recipes are deceptively simple: students can read a recipe in five minutes, but the much slower process of unpacking and analyzing the methods, ingredients, attributions, and geospatial references teaches students about the richness and complexity of historical sources.

5. Now that your book is out, what’s your current research project?

Spa: Faith, Public Health, and Politics in Early Modern Britain examines the complex medical marketplaces of the seventeenth-century British Atlantic world. (Ed. note: See Amanda’s post on “Drinking Stinking Spa Waters” for a little taste.) Spa cities lay at the intersection of many important early modern cultural and intellectual phenomena: they organized community-run systems of social security; they offered medical aid to war veterans; they provided women with opportunities to create independent businesses; they fostered unusual, and sometimes unorthodox, religious and political debate; and they offered venues for the poor and ‘masterless’ to make their voices heard through public processions, protests, and works of art.  But most studies of hot spring cities have focused on the eighteenth-century alone, and on the practices of sociability and marriage-making which structured the elite, aristocratic culture of the spa at that time.  My book aims to recover the seventeenth-century world of the spa, and to reclaim the early modern urban spa as an important site for the study of the history of popular culture and public health.  I’m also working on a digital history project which is related to the book: “Mapping the Medical Marketplace in the Early Modern World.”  I’m very excited about both new projects!

And we’re excited to have Amanda joining The Recipes Project!