Melissa Calaresu will be speaking as part of the Brown Bag Lunch Series on Thursday, October 11, 2012, from 12 to 1:30 pm. Her talk is entitled “Eating Ice-Cream on the Streets of Naples: Materiality and Ephemerality in the History of Food.”

Melissa Calaresu is the Neil McKendrick Lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. She has published articles on a variety of topics, including historical and autobiographical writing in the eighteenth century, the Grand Tour, representations of urban space in the early modern period, and the public sphere and political reform in Naples. Calaresu is co-editor of Exploring Cultural History: Essays in Honour of Peter Burke (Ashgate, 2010); The Power of Place: New Approaches to Early Modern Naples(forthcoming, 2013); and Food Hawkers: Selling in the Streets from Antiquity to the Present (forthcoming, 2013). Her recent research on the history of snow and ice-cream in eighteenth-century Italy will be published as an article in Past & Present in 2013. Calaresu’s current project, a cultural history of the Neapolitan Enlightenment, draws upon her earlier research on the political thought of late eighteenth-century Naples and explores the material culture and material interests of the European Enlightenment.

For many Europeans of the eighteenth century – and for later historians of the period as well – ice cream was considered a luxury good. Traditionally, historical accounts of ice-cream in Europe have suggested that the frozen dessert, originally only available at the banquets of aristocratic and royal palaces in the seventeenth century, made its way onto the tables of more ordinary households by the end of the eighteenth century. Recent research has shown, however, that ice-cream – or its Neapolitan variant sorbetto – was not just being eaten in silver cups but also on the streets of the city itself. Visual representations and travel literature from the early eighteenth century confirm the eating of ice-cream on the streets. At first glance, these images continue a history of representing the city of Naples as a theater of extremes between extraordinary luxury and immense poverty; however, further research reveals that a micro-economy supplied the city with snow every day of the year from, at least, the late seventeenth century and made ice cream available to a much larger public. In her presentation, Calaresu will utilize a variety of sources – including tax and guild records of the snow trade, recipe books of professional cooks and later householders, a limited corpus of extant objects for serving ice-cream, and a great number of touristic images of itinerant sorbettari – to piece together the history of making and eating ice-cream in eighteenth-century Naples. Additionally, Calaresu will explore the wider implications of the ephemeral and temporal in current writing about material culture, for example, in the history of ordinary eating, for which the extant material culture is particularly limited.