In Focus: Staging the Table in Europe, 1500–1800

This course will introduce students to the exhibition “Staging the Table in Europe, 1500–1800” that will open at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in February, 2023. Students will have the chance to collaborate on a digital project that will be on view in the exhibition, as well as other web-based materials. They will have the opportunity to prepare public-facing gallery talks and other educational programming in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition. Meetings with the exhibition designer, Ian Sullivan, with Jesse Merandy, Director of Digital Humanities/Exhibitions, and others involved in the mounting and interpretation of the exhibition will be part of the course. The exhibition reimagines spaces of display and performance in early modern Europe through examination of the arts of the table. It will feature several sixteenth- and seventeenth-century illustrated manuals and handbooks that contain instructions for carving meats and fruits, and folding napkins, as well as directing conversation and other kinds of tableside entertainment. Cutlery and table linens from the early modern period will be on view alongside the manuals and handbooks. Some background: During the period under study, knowledge of food, its preparation, and service moved from the realm of tacit, artisanal understanding to a more scientific and rational set of precepts and codes. Paralleling transformations in areas such as agriculture, botany, metallurgy and other scientific fields, cooking became subject to empirical standards that underlie both texts and images in various books published in the period 1500–1800. 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. 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. Topics for research papers include exhibition objects such as books, cutlery, and linens, but will not be limited to the checklist. Course requirements include class reports, a research project, and recipe reconstructions. Reading knowledge of one European language (French, German, Spanish, or Italian) is recommended. 3 credits. Satisfies the pre-1800 requirement. May satisfy the digital literacy requirement, depending on the project.