Plenary Speakers

Keynote Address and 56th James Ford Bell Lecture

Thursday, October 17, 2019   7:00 p.m. – approx. 8:30 p.m., 120 Elmer L. Andersen Library 

Paul Freedman (Chester D. Tripp Professor of History, Yale University)

Professor Freedman specializes in medieval social history, the history of Catalonia, comparative studies of the peasantry, trade in luxury products, and the history of cuisine.  He is the author of Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (Yale, 2018); Ten Restaurants That Changed America (Liveright/Norton, 2016), among others. 

Lecture: Poverty and Prestige:  Food and Social Status in Pre-Modern Europe

What people eat is not merely the result of the natural environment or of national tastes but rather varies with class.  The elite classes mark their status by eating certain foods and avoiding others associated with peasant or other lower-class consumption.  In our time, for example, prestige is now attached to local, seasonal food, artisanal products (craft beer; small-batch pickles) while the lower classes are stereotyped as addicted to unhealthy, sugary and processed food.  Thirty years ago the stereotypes were reversed:  rural people were mocked for keeping chickens in their back yard and putting up their own produce for winter while upper-class taste involved imported foie-gras in cans, English marmalade, and other prestigious but industrial products.

In pre-modern Europe there was a similar social positioning.  Aristocratic status required serving meals that involved meat, especially game, highly-spiced sauces (spices had both a medicinal and exotic value as they came from far away and were expensive), and large fish such as sturgeon or lamprey.  The peasant diet was actually healthier than that of the elite as it had more fiber, vegetables, and variety, but its constituents were ridiculed—pottage, dairy products, garlic, and other strong-flavored garden produce. This presentation will explore how some of these images of status changed—how cheese and salad became prestigious in the Renaissance, for example, and how the hierarchy of foods was affected by other cross-cultural currents such as fasting rules (that required fish for up to one-third of the year) and medical notions (the rich always think the diet of the poor is unhealthful)

Copies of Professor Freedman’s new book, American Cuisine and How It Got This Way, will be available for purchase following the lecture.

This event is co-sponsored by the Associates of the James Ford Bell Library and the Friends of the University of Minnesota Libraries.


Center for Early Modern History Lecture

Friday, October 18, 2019 12:15pm, 120 Elmer L. Andersen Library

Marcy Norton (University of Pennsylvania)

Lecture: Chocolate and the Flowery World: Visual Culture, Sensory Experience, and the Columbian Exchange

This lecture centers around a chocolate still life (c. 1631) that is perhaps the first painting created in Europe devoted exclusively to chocolate, a technology and beverage invented in Native Mesoamerica. The canvas also features an artwork created by a Native artist:  a lacquered gourd (xícara) whose painted surface depicts a “flowery world,” a sensorial experience, as well as mythical location, created by the chocolate it was meant to contain. Using these two works of art, Norton consider the relationship between food, visual culture, and colonialism in the wake of the “Columbian Exchange.”


Beer History Event Lecture

Saturday, October 19, 2019 3:30pm, Surly Brewing Company

Theresa McCulla (Smithsonian Institute)

Theresa McCulla, Ph.D., is Curator of the American Brewing History Initiative at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, where is she building an archive of the history of homebrewing and craft beer in the United States. Previously, she worked for Harvard University Library, Harvard University Dining Services, and the Central Intelligence Agency. McCulla earned a PhD in American Studies and an MA in History from Harvard University, a Culinary Arts Diploma from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, and a BA in Romance Languages from Harvard College. She is writing a book (under contract with the University of Chicago Press) about the history of food and race in New Orleans.

Lecture: Archiving Craft: Collection of American Beer’s Recent Past and Present

The American Brewing History Initiative at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History is constructing a new archive of American beer and brewing history. Emphasizing the twentieth-century stories of homebrewing and microbrewed—or “craft”—beer, this research and collecting initiative is assembling objects, documents, and oral histories to preserve the history of a contemporary phenomenon, especially surrounding ephemeral experiences of consumption and taste. This talk will outline the history of the craft beer revolution, a revival of artisan brewing techniques and styles whose impact has rippled across social, economic, and gastronomic realms. It will also present new research on early homebrewing clubs, computing clubs, and the entrepreneurial and intellectual “ferment” of northern California in the 1970s.