COMP 224
The Cookbook Through History Spring 2015
Division I
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Class Details

More than a compilation of recipes and instructions, a cookbook is a means of cultural transmission. This course will read between the recipe lines, exploring cookbooks as important documents that reveal a surprising amount about history and society. As Arjun Appadurai has noted, cookbooks “tell unusual cultural tales, combining the sturdy pragmatic virtues of all manuals with the vicarious pleasures of the literature of the senses.” We will begin by examining the cookbooks of antiquity for what they can tell us about social status, global trade, and the distribution of foodstuffs and wealth. Moving into the medieval period we will look at cookbooks-cum-medical texts and consider the importance of diet and nutritional advice. Many early modern cookbooks were also agricultural and household primers, so we will touch on garden and table design and also discuss how the recipes reflect the great shifts of the Columbian exchange. The “receipt” books kept by many women were often their sole means of expression; these manuscripts will lead to discussions of gender and class. As we progress to the 19th century, we’ll look at cookbooks intended to assimilate immigrant groups, as well as the cookbooks those groups published to keep their culinary traditions intact. We will see how nutrition becomes ever more prescriptive, as do “domestic science” and “home economics” as ways of validating women’s kitchen labors. The 20th century brings a proliferation of culinary instruction in new forms, including artists’ books, TV shows and videos. Because cookbooks engage with issues still pertinent today–gender, race, immigration, global trade, national identity, health, and religious and cultural tensions–we will approach the books through many different disciplines, from culinary history to sociology and anthropology, to the visual arts, gender studies and nutrition. Students will actively use the rich collection of rare cookbooks in Chapin Library. This will be part of “The Book Unbound” initiative.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 3313
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: active class participation, 4 response papers, one 8- to 10-page research paper, 1 oral presentation and 2 class projects
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis; not available for the Gaudino option
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: students who have studied another language
Distributions: Division I

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