Culinary Cartographies: Food, Gender, and Race in the Early Modern Black Atlantic (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2004 semester seminar.

The “Atlantic” has been a concern in early modern literary and cultural studies for some time now, but the vanishing point of most work on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England is England’s relation to its mainland colonies. This seminar changed the perspective on early modern English literature and history by privileging the heterogeneous traffic in goods, people, and ideas that constituted England’s contact with Africa and the West Indies. Focusing particularly on the circulation of foodstuffs in the seventeenth century, participants investigated early modern England’s development of its Caribbean colonies, asking what ideas about cultural and racial differences circulated and were created in the interactions between Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and America? How did newly available commodities and their production influence England’s cultural imagination? With the production and consumptions of foodstuffs as the focus of discussion, the seminar gave sustained attention to women and gender, as well as highlighted connections between households and the currents of trade flowing through the Atlantic. Food—simultaneously physical, aesthetic, political, and mercantile—also allowed the class to address a range of concerns: the development of racialized labor and slavery, the influence of ideologies of the “household,” the emergence of capitalism, colonial rivalry, conspicuous consumption, and the performance of status.

Director: Kim F. Hall is the Thomas F.X. Mullarkey Chair in Literature at Fordham University. She is the author of Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (1995), among other works. Her Othello: Texts and Contexts is forthcoming. She is currently working on a book entitled Sweet Taste of Empire: Gender, Sugar, and Material Culture in the Seventeenth Century.