Reading the Table in Early Modern Europe

In conjunction with what has been called the “coming of the book,” knowledge about food, including its preparation and service, moved from the realm of tacit, artisanal understanding to more scientific and rational precepts codified in texts. Paralleling transformations in areas such as agriculture, botany, metallurgy and other fields that were based on the observation of nature, food preparation became subject to empirical standards that can be seen in both texts and images in various books published in Europe between 1500 and 1800. New markets, and the advent of printing, led to the proliferation of prescriptive literature aimed at a broad audience, from country homemakers to the chefs of princes. Organized both chronologically and thematically, this course surveys foodstuffs, the objects created to prepare and serve them, and the vast body of texts that provided instruction for cooks, stewards, and others, and engages with research for an exhibition about a group of handbooks and manuals intended to demonstrate the arts of display on the tables of European elites from the late middle ages through the end of the eighteenth century that will be mounted at BGC in Spring 2023. Research topics will include exhibition objects such as books, cutlery, and linens, but will not be limited to the checklist. Course requirements include class reports, a research paper, and recipe reconstructions. Reading knowledge of one European language (French, German, Spanish, or Italian) is recommended. Satisfies pre-1800 requirement.