I was invited to join the Recipes Project by Lisa Smith in 2012 when I was a freshly minted medieval studies PhD working part-time at the University of Saskatchewan. I was lucky enough to be present at some of the earliest meetings about this idea Lisa and Elaine Leong had. My first post went online a few months later, in September of that year. Eventually I took over the social media duties from Lisa and I now control the Facebook and Twitter feeds (although Lisa sometimes still jumps in!).
Since 2012 I have moved provinces to Toronto, left academia, worked a year as a freelance researcher for a design company, and now work at the University of Toronto as a project manager for a grant-funded research project, Digital Tools for Manuscript Study. My time now is mostly taken up with budgets and coordinating people and schedules instead of teaching or research.
The Recipes Project has been a terrific outlet for the research I did as a graduate student and a way to disseminate some of my favourite bits of my dissertation. Once I decided to leave academia I knew that the chances that I’d publish any of my former work was pretty low – blogging seemed like a natural solution. I could write about topics like farting, love, and censorship in magical texts to my heart’s content. It was also exciting/scary to know that my writing was reaching an audience of several thousand, which is certainly more than a traditionally published article would reach!
I took over social media duties in 2014 and I have really enjoyed being able to take an active part in the project in this way. Through the Twitter feed I’ve encountered a huge range of people and projects outside my field of study; it’s been fascinating to see what researchers in other time periods and geographic areas are working on, and I enjoy sharing these finds with our Twitter and Facebook followers (fun fact: as I am writing this The Recipes Project has 933 likes on Facebook and 7,053 followers on Twitter!). The online community around the Recipes Project is very enthusiastic about what we write about and it’s always interesting to check our notifications to see how our followers respond to us. We have even recruited contributors through Facebook and Twitter! I feel very privileged to be a part of this project and see it grow from an idea into the thriving community it is now. The Recipes Project is really a testament to the good scholarly work that can be accomplished in online communities and through social media.
When Lisa Smith, Elaine Leong and Amanda Herbert invited me to join the editorial team of The Recipes Project in the Autumn of 2014, I felt elated. I was so happy to join what I knew would be a supportive team of editors. My contribution was to solicit posts from scholars working on ‘ancient’ material, and I started in my editorial role with a series on Greek and Roman Recipes in January 2015. Since then, we have had a post on pre-1500 recipes almost every month, which is extremely pleasing.
Before I joined the editorial team, I had been blogging for The Recipes Project for two years. I wrote my first post for TRP while on maternity leave with my second son, G. That leave, which blissfully lasted an entire year, was a turning point in my career. I had been extremely lucky to gain an open-ended lectureship in Ancient History at Cardiff University, but I was finding it increasingly difficult to juggle my job with motherhood, that is, with one son, T. As is often the case, my research was suffering: students – quite rightfully – come first for a lecturer. How was I going to cope with a second child? How would I ever find time to write articles, let alone books (gasps)?
Blogging was the solution. It quite simply saved my research career. I started blogging on my own blog, Concocting History, and The Recipes Project around the same time, at the beginning of 2013. With blogging, I discovered that I could take a few ancient recipes and write an entertaining (well, at least I hope) piece in a couple of hours. It was all so different from ‘traditional’ academic writing, where it can take years for an article to see the light of day. Of course, blogging cannot entirely replace that slow process of maturation that happens when writing academic articles, but it can certainly complement it. And I also discovered that I could apply the discipline that I had learnt from blogging, that of writing a short piece of research in a given amount of time, to article and book writing. Gone were the leisurely days I could devote to research – at least for the foreseeable future – but I could now write faster and in a more targeted way.
The benefits of blogging do not end there. The wonderful TRP community allowed me to meet so many new people, some virtually, others in person, and to engage with their ideas and material. One of my favourite way of blogging is to respond to another post. Thus, I particularly enjoyed responding to Jennifer Park’s post on curdled milk in the breast. I was learning to open up my horizons and become more adventurous.
Scholars working on recipes know perhaps better than most that there is no recipe for happiness. But we also know that working with historical recipes can bring a great deal of pleasure. To do so in the supportive environment of The Recipes Project, one that is based on collaboration and encouragement, is particularly joyful. Do join us!
My first post for the Recipes Project, “Early Modern Comfort Foods,” appeared in March 2013. At the time, the blog was not quite a year old, but had already been getting some excellent attention. Friends who knew that I worked on recipes kept sending me links to it, asking if I’d seen it and what I thought about the work that was being done. But I was already hooked: from its very earliest posts, the RP offered a unique platform, a place for anyone who studied recipes – and especially early-career scholars – to share their newest research and to receive supported, structured feedback on their ideas. I’m proud that we’ve continued this mission through to today.
There is a huge value in the openness and inclusivity of the RP. Authors can, and do, create posts which follow a variety of forms and formats. I’ve taken advantage of this myself, as both a contributor and an editor. I’ve written posts constructed on a microhistorical level, out of snippets pulled straight out of the archive; that first “Comfort Foods” post was written from inside of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester MA, where I’d gone to do dissertation research on colonial British American recipes and commonplace books. When that dissertation became a book, I wrote a couple of posts about the project as a whole, taking a macroscopic view of the roles played by recipes in early modern social networks. When I got my first job, I brought the RP along with me into my classrooms and advising meetings. I wrote about the ways that I taught with recipes for chocolate and for ink, and in partnership with talented undergraduates, I helped them to write about their own recipes research. When I started the search for my next research project, I turned straight to the RP, exploring recipes holdings in libraries and archives around the world. When I joined Lisa and Elaine as an RP editor in June 2014, it opened even more opportunities: organizing a themed series, writing round-ups, and participating in reflection posts like this one. Along the way, my RP colleagues and friends have been exceptionally generous in writing posts to help recognize, publicize, and bring attention to my work. And I’m beyond pleased that the RP has followed me to the Folger, where in the coming years we’ll continue to explore the library’s many amazing recipes sources.
Early-career scholars juggle a lot of different roles. The RP, with its flexible format and warm, thoughtful community of scholars, offers those who study recipes the chance to share their work, in whatever form it’s taking. As my own example – and those of many others – can prove, the RP can grow with you. Supporting and promoting people who are just embarking on their careers is one of the most important things that the RP does, and it’s what I value most as a member of this group.
I often start my blog posts with ruminations on how quickly time flies – most probably because as a busy academic and working mother – changes in seasons and project milestones frequently creep up on me as um…wonderful surprises. When they do, though, it’s always useful take a minute for a bit of reflection.
Almost five years have gone by since, in the freezing April (!) snow of Saskatoon, Lisa Smith and I put our heads together for potential recipe-related collaborations. This blog was born just a few months later. I have to confess, when Lisa first brought up the idea of a blog, I was more than a little hesitant. I am one of the worlds’ slowest writers, seeing each footnote as an invitation “explore” and read another 10 articles or so, fretting over argumentation and structure, and indecisively musing over exactly which example best illustrates my point (and then making the – um – wrong decision to use all the ones I found…). Most of us are under pretty intense pressure to write-up and publish our research in traditional formats such as monographs, journal articles and edited volumes. So, the idea of adding regular blog posts to my workload was a little angst inducing. Now, for the second confession of this post – over the years, working on The Recipes Project has become one of the most pleasurable parts of my job and I am incredibly grateful to Lisa for getting us all started at The Recipes Project.
So, what makes The Recipes Project work for me? From the beginning, I saw The Recipes Project not as a blog but as a virtual research network – a platform bringing together scholars and readers with similar interests and fostering conversations across geographical, disciplinary and temporal boundaries. Here, The Recipes Project excels in a number of areas. With a mind on our usual word limit (yes, it applies to editors too), I outline here three aspects which I particularly appreciate. First and let’s get to the crux of the matter – intellectual import and benefits. My work on the blog – commissioning posts and thematic series, editing, and communicating with contributors – have enabled me to keep abreast of new research in my field. More importantly, over the years, The Recipes Project contributors have extended, challenged, and pushed my views on recipes as a text form and collecting, writing and testing recipes as epistemic practices. They have introduced me to different methodologies, inspired me to pull together new narratives and to frame fresh questions. For me, recipe studies now offer researchers unique opportunities to collectively craft together longue durée global histories across a number of knowledge spheres.
Secondly, The Recipes Project is a great example of collaborative research project. Over the years, I have worked closely with a dozens of contributors who not only invite me into their research worlds with much open-mindedness and grace but also motivated me to tighten my own thinking and writing. The editorial team at The Recipes Project – Lisa Smith, Amanda Herbert, Laurence Totelin and Laura Mitchell – are all scholars of amazing generosity. In them, I witness every month how kindness, encouragement and support can build a “village” of an intellectual community. At the same time, we also continually challenge each other with new ideas and skills as we each bring different strengths to the table. For example, unlike the others, I am a latecomer to the world of social media (I only joined twitter last week – find me @HistoryElaine, no tweets yet) and am just discovering the possibilities of being a twitterstorian. What prompted my recent foray into twitter? Well…we have big plans brewing at the RP headquarters – watch this space.
Finally, perhaps most personally fulfilling, over the years The Recipes Project has become a social community in addition to an intellectual one. Logging onto the blog and devouring the latest post, I am always excited and encouraged to read about the new recipe-related adventures of my friends and colleagues. When I head to large international conferences, it’s lovely to see the friendly face of a fellow Recipes Project contributor. More than once, I’ve also had lively and helpful coffees breaks with like-minded contributors at various libraries where hints and tips for new readings or alternative lines of research are exchanged (just like EM recipe exchange?). Many readers also approach us at email@example.com with offers of posts and ideas. We always welcome new voices and hearing from contributors hailing from a range of knowledge fields is what makes our community diverse, welcoming and vibrant.
That’s it for me. Next month, co-editor Amanda Herbert will share her thoughts on The Recipes Project – tune in!