Histories of American Foodways

Histories of American Foodways

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Amerikastudien, Jahrestagung der Historiker/innen; organisiert von Nina Mackert und Jürgen Martschukat
Vom - Bis
13.02.2015 - 15.02.2015
Jürgen Martschukat

Eating right has become a tough challenge in modern America. Every day, Americans face a vast number of food choices, from gene-modified corn and processed lasagna to locally grown vegetables, organic meat and homemade jam. These foodstuffs are produced, sold and consumed in a myriad of places, from vast fields to factories in huge industrial areas, from suburban superstores to the neighborhood’s farmers’ market, from home dining tables to fancy rooftop restaurants. Yet, the American foodscape is even richer than that: It is also a patchwork of traditional and ethnic foodstyles in a society that is local and global at the same time and looks back on a long history of migration, encounter and exchange. Consumers’ choices depend on their cultural traditions, their wealth, their gender, race, age and religion, the status of their health and many other factors. Choosing “right” demands knowledge about personal preferences, the tastes and origins of food-stuffs, their nutritional value, the pleasures and the dangers they provide for individual bodies and the nation.

“Food is good to think with,” French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss pointed out half a century ago – and it is also good to study and write history with. Food provides a variety of paths to the values, patterns, practices, politics and power structures, conflicts and choices of a society. Also, it is the ubiquity and everydayness of eating which make understanding the histories of American foodways so important. Within the recent two decades, food has become a booming topic of his-torical inquiry on America. Food has been explored in its importance for the colonization processes from the first encounters between Europeans and Americans to the highly globalized world of the 21st century. Both European and American diets looked different before Columbus sailed to America. Historians have also studied food’s relationship to industrialization, with the many changes in processes of food production, allocation and marketing. They have looked at the related transformations of the American diet, the emergence of home economics and nutritional thinking and the changing fears and promises related to various kinds of food, substances and bodies. The historical study of American regional foods and of America’s ethnic foodways and how they relate to the history of immigration and identity has also been an important field of research lately. Furthermore, scholars have studied the histories of various substances and foodstuffs, from vitamins to meat and Iceberg lettuce, and how their production and consumption changed neighborhoods, cities, regions or the whole nation, its taste, technology, and transportation networks. Other research has addressed the moral meanings of foodstuffs, the history of dieting and fasting and the current “obesity crisis” and its meanings for America in the world.

The goals of the conference are manifold. Although focused on a historical perspective on North America, the study of food is interdisciplinary by definition, and we also aim to include both papers from other disciplines and papers pointing to the global interdepencies of American foodways. Invited keynote speakers will be internationally renowned food studies scholars and historians Prof. Charlotte Biltekoff (UC Davis) and Prof. Bryant Simon (Temple University).

Possible topics for papers include, but are not limited to the following:

Food and Identity in a highly dynamic migration society. Potential topics are the histories of ethnic food in America, but also the invention of traditional American food styles and their local and regional differences, from the history and meanings of Southern soul food to California cuisine.

Food production and the historical changes in its processes and practices, from a largely agrarian society and culture to the food industry, agribusiness and meat factories and to (post)modern urban gardening and home cooking.

Food consumption in everyday life and also the meanings of special food types for special occasions such as the family meal on Sunday, but also the history of fast food, food deserts and pre-fab meals and how they transformed American living patterns. We also invite presenters to think about the history of slow food, foodie-ism and the shaping of a culture that fetishizes food.

The costs of food, such as the labor conditions in the food industry or health issues that have been related to food and eating practices from “obesity” to allergies and food intolerances. Presenters are also invited to analyze historical reactions to the costs of food and explore for instance the histories of diet and fasting movements, vegetarianism and others.

Food in a global world, delineating the history of global food chains since the founding of the first colonies in America, or of food production and its global diversification in an industrialized world. Presenters are also invited to think about changes in food consumption through globalization, for instance about travelling food concepts or the history of an international cuisine. We also welcome papers on food as an instrument of foreign policy.

Please send an abstract of no more than 500 words and a one-page CV to both conveners by August 31, 2014: Nina Mackert (nina.mackert@uni-erfurt.de) and Jürgen Martschukat (juergen.martschukat@uni-erfurt.de). If accepted, the presentation is limited to 25 minutes.

We also want to remind you of our “Young Academics Forum“ which is open to any topic in U.S.-history. Young scholars are invited to propose their research projects for presentation and discussion in our workshops. Please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words and a brief CV of no more than one page to both conveners.



Nordamerikanische Geschichte
Universität Erfurt
Nordhäuser Str. 63
99089 Erfurt