Jeffrey Pilcher

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:

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  • History of the Americas
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Food is at the heart of human societies, economies, and cultures, but historians have long considered it peripheral to their endeavors. Members of the French Annales school, with their vision of total history, were among the first historians to consider food through quantitative studies of agrarian societies and historical diets. Social historians of the 1960s also examined diets as crucial to the standard-of-living debates about the effects of early industrialization on the working classes. With the rise of cultural history, historians have expanded the scope of investigation to include the symbolic meanings foods have imparted to political regimes, ethnic identities, and consumer societies. The field of food studies is inherently interdisciplinary, in part because anthropologists and other social scientists have far-longer traditions of researching food than do historians. The study of food chains, for example, grew out of early works in rural sociology and world systems. In a similar fashion, Alfred Crosby adopted a geographical perspective to perceive the historical importance of the Columbian Exchange. Food studies scholars have contributed to Atlantic history through research on such topics as the Columbian Exchange, the role of consumption in early modern empires and plantation economies, urban provisioning and political legitimacy, cookbooks and the construction of national identities, and the rise of ethnic identities within migratory communities. And although Atlantic history often focuses on the period from 1500–1800, longue durée histories of food often pull scholars across the divide between early modernity and modern life.

Article.  6221 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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