The beautiful French city of Tours, located in the Loire Valley in central France, hosts an institute solely dedicated to the study of food. This European Institute for the History and Culture of Food (IEHCA) has an excellent library, hosts cultural events and activities around the protection of food and drink heritage, supports publications in the field, and organises an annual conference on the history of food. Moreover, for the last fourteen years it has hosted a Summer University: a week of intense study dedicated to the cultures and histories of food and drink.
For the first time this year, the Shared Taste project collaborated with the IEHCA Summer University. Anne Gerritsen offered one of the five expert presentations, Alice de Jong was one of the participants, and two students were the beneficiaries of a Shared Taste bursary. This is the first of three Shared Taste blog posts that were inspired by the IEHCA Summer University of 2016.
In this first blog post, we hear from Kathleen Burke, an MA student enrolled both at King’s College, London (UK) and at the Humboldt Universität in Berlin:
I had the opportunity to attend the 14th IEHCA summer university on food and drink studies in Tours from 28 August – 4 September. The week was action-packed full of activities that allowed participants to think about food in new ways.
Food studies is a relatively new field of academic inquiry, and the summer university reflected this diversity in all kinds of ways. Students came from a range of disciplinary backgrounds. While the majority came from history, there were also specialists in Asian studies, food education, art history, archaeology, sociology, anthropology and communication studies. There was also a pleasing geographical diversity among students (20 students hailed from 15 different countries) which gave the summer university an international flavour, and provided an opportunity to have a cross-cultural, as well as an intellectual, exchange around food – which, after all, unites us as human beings.
Some of the best exchanges occurred out of the classroom and around the commensality of a shared meal. Participants pointed out the unique opportunities that food provides to break down social boundaries and forge new connections. Despite this, a key theme of the summer school was focused on food as the site of inequalities, highlighting the multiple contradictions embedded in food and its multi-dimensional nature as an object of study.
For my own research, I found the summer university immensely productive. The sheer variety of ways that food can feature in academic research has produced a range of disciplinary approaches, methods and concepts. The summer university provided a sort of tour du table of key approaches, and allowed me to think more deeply about the analytical possibilities of studying food, as well as the strengths and limitations of different methodological choices. The faculty associated with the program were wonderfully supportive of students’ research.
Asia was the best represented region after Europe as a topic of study, with students researching aspects of culinary and eating practices in Taiwan, East Asia, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as the impact of trade in Indonesian cloves and nutmeg on Dutch cookery books.
I benefited from the opportunity of presenting my work and getting feed- back from other scholars. In my own work, I focus on the role of food and culinary practices in the cultural exchange between Asia and Europe, in particular the Luso-Asian diaspora in seventeenth-century Batavia. I am interested in how enslaved and manumitted Luso- Asian women used culinary practices to construct specific identities as ‘mardijkers’. ‘Mardijker’ is thought to be from the original Sanskrit to mean a ‘great man’ who was exempt from paying taxes. In seventeenth-century Batavia, this meaning was transformed to signify manumitted slaves of Luso-Asian descent. In my presentation to the summer university, I discussed some of the limitations of using visual sources, such as the one above, in reading a cultural and social history of mardijkers.
It was an immense privilege to attend the summer university. I am very grateful to the Shared Taste program for facilitating my attendance. I encourage students to apply who have a passion for food studies – the summer university is a place to nurture and develop your ideas in a convivial environment surrounded by like-minded scholars. And, furthermore, it’s a week full of fun, forging new connections, and food in all of its dimensions.
Shared Taste collaborates with the European Institute for the History and Culture of Food, Tours (France), Part 1. Read Part 2 here.