Humanities Initiative Fellows
Humanities Initiative Fellows 2015-16
My research project as Humanities Initiative Fellow concerns the depiction of food, cooking, and recipes in Greco-Roman literature. During my stay in Budapest, I spent time writing a small book on treatises on cuisine in ancient Greece and Rome. The working title of this book is: The Myth of Cookbooks in Ancient Greece and Rome.
In that book, I reckon that the importance of “cookbooks” in ancient times and their influence on the ancient food culture have been overstated in modern scholarship. Notwithstanding the publication of the Apicius cookbook in the 4th century CE - for unknown reasons -, I refuse to project the use of cookbooks onto classical antiquity as a whole. In recent papers, I have argued that there is no clear evidence of the existence of cookbooks in classical antiquity before the 4th century CE, except for two contentious lists published by authors Pollux and Athenaeus. I have also argued that many modern scholars have been misled by the claims of the boastful chef, a fictional stock character in ancient Greek comedy.
My thesis shows that modern scholars have misunderstood the purpose of food literature in ancient times and have projected the modern conception of “gastronomy” and “cookbooks” onto Greek and Roman societies. Indeed, if cooking and cuisine can sometimes be considered today as an “art form”, the same understanding of ancient cuisine in modern scholarship is based on a misapprehension. For instance, what modern translations render as “the art of cuisine” was in fact conceived as a “technical knowledge” (technê) in ancient thought. This is confirmed by the fact that ancient cooks were usually slaves. In short, I consider that the common belief amongst modern scholars that Greek and Roman cuisines were “high cuisines” (Goody) or that they were of “gastronomic value” (André, Dalby, Gallo) can be explained by a reading of ancient sources based on modern values and stereotypes in prescriptive literature. My book claims that there is no such thing as real learned chefs writing cookbooks in classical antiquity and that ancient Greeks and Romans did not share our values, as far as cooking and food choices are concerned. In fact, it shows that ancient authors considered food under different literary genres, such as agricultural treatises, medicine, and lexicography.
In order to help understand ancient food cultures within their own intellectual categories, I organized a workshop at the Institute for Advanced Study on April 8, 2016. This workshop was titled: Cooking Knowledge: An Intellectual History of Food and Cuisine. Guest speakers included: Prof. Bruno Laurioux, Professor of Medieval History at the University François-Rabelais at Tours and Chairman of the Scientific Committee at the European Institute for Food History and Culture, Dr. Robin Nadeau, Humanities Initiative Fellow at IAS CEU, and Prof. John Wilkins, Professor Emeritus of Ancient Greek Culture at the University of Exeter.
Prof. Laurioux exposed how the perception of cooking as an “art form” or as a “science” is a - modern - cultural construction in Western history. Dr. Nadeau criticized the modern reading of ancient listings as recipes. He re-established them in the intellectual context of ancient lexicography. Prof. Wilkins found related scientific grounds binding ancient medical treatises on food and Archestratus’ mock epic on food.
Achievements so far on this topic:
2015. “Cookery Books” in J. Wilkins & R. Nadeau (ed.), A Companion to Food in the Ancient World, Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell, p. 53-58.
2015. “La littérature gourmande: un signe de révolution culinaire?”, in Food & History vol. 13, n.1.
Forthcoming: (2016) “Le mythe de la gastronomie dans l’Antiquité gréco-romaine: discours et pratiques”, in J. Csergo & O. Etcheverria (ed.), Imaginaires de la gastronomie : production, diffusions, valeurs, enjeux. Actes du colloque des Entretiens Jacques-Cartier, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Montréal, October 6 2014.
Forthcoming book: The Myth of Cookbooks in Classical Antiquity.
During my year as a Humanities Initiative Fellow at the CEU/Institute for Advanced Study, my main project was revising my dissertation, “Constructing Imperial Spaces: Habsburg Cartography into the Age of Enlightenment” into a book. I approached this goal from a variety of angles and in the process I deepened my understanding of the larger context, developed new interdisciplinary connections with scholars interested in understanding the relationship between science and empire, and discovered new avenues of research.
The academic dialogue I engaged in with the other IAS fellows and the larger CEU-community forced me to reevaluate the role of Habsburg cartographers in the process of imperial centralization and expansion. Therefore, the title of my book manuscript in progress became “Foot Soldiers of Empire: Habsburg Cartographers in the Age of Enlightened Reform” and the spotlight moved on the activities of military men and astronomers. My material allows us to step out from the halls of the imperial residence and government bureaus to follow this new generation of military-men and scientists engaged in a process of measuring, representing and improving imperial landscapes. These ‘foot soldiers of empire’ constantly mediated between Viennese priorities, provincial and local contexts and their own personal agendas. The second major addition to my project is an introductory chapter comparing the imperial experience of the Habsburg Monarchy with respect to developments in other early-modern empires, such as Britain, France, Spain and Russia. Contrasting the story of an almost land-locked empire, namely the Habsburg Monarchy, with maritime empires reveals how the geographic and geopolitical challenges specific to this Central European polity impacted its mapmaking policies and the larger process of centralization.
In addition to working on my first book manuscript, the proximity to archives in Budapest and Vienna encouraged me to pursue ideas for new academic projects. Trips to the Map Collection of the Military Museum, the Map Collection of Széchényi Library and the Hungarian National Archives, gave me access to new sources for the study of Habsburg cartography and mapmakers in the eighteenth century. Whereas my current book project is heavily focused on the post-1750 time period, military engineers had been surveying and representing strategic points in the Habsburg borderlands decades before. Therefore, I hope to publish a series of articles analyzing the efforts of Habsburg mapmakers to represent the southeastern border provinces of the Monarchy, namely Transylvania (annexed in 1699) and Austrian Wallachia (incorporated as part of the empire between 1718 and 1740). For example, I am in the process of finalizing an article on the topic of military cartography and the mountain passes of Transylvania in the first half of the eighteenth century for the forthcoming volume Die Türkenkriege des 18. Jahrhunderts. Wahrnehmen – Wissen – Erinnern, edited by Josef Wolf and Wolfgang Zimmermann, to be published in 2017.
In order to widen the scope of my work and connect the development of cartography in the Habsburg Monarchy with other scientific domains and polities, in May 2016, I organized the workshop entitled “Intertwined Enlightenments?: Studies of Science and Empire in the Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian Realms during the Eighteenth Century.” Fourteen scholars from Europe and the United States presented their work which inserts the experiences of the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Russian and the Ottoman empires into “science and empire” studies more firmly than before. The animated discussions during the workshop sessions involved presenters, session chairs and a very active audience incorporating academics from a variety of higher education institutions in Budapest, such as CEU, ELTE, Corvinus University, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian National Archives. In the upcoming year I plan to continue this collaboration in the form of a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal.
As a Humanities Initiative Fellow I had the opportunity to become integrated in the History Department and teach a graduate-level course entitled “Cartography and Empires in Early Modern Europe (1400-1800).” For twelve weeks, together with my students, we examined imperial maps in the age of European empires and we discussed how monarchs incorporated maps as essential tools for governing, defending and expanding their lands. Discussing readings on the history of cartography and empires with CEU students allowed me to reflect about the larger theoretical implications of my work and to revise especially the introductory and concluding chapters of my manuscript. The CEU students’ enthusiasm for integrating cartographic material in their historical analyses motivated the organization of a workshop on “Historical Cartography” together with the Herder Institute (Marburg, Germany). Dr. Victoria Harms (CEU MA Alumna, 2007), Postdoctoral Fellow at the Herder Institute and Dr. Christian Lotz, Head of the Map Collection of the Herder Institute hosted eight CEU graduate students and me for three days. The students spent the time in Marburg learning how to integrate maps as primary sources in their projects and conducted individual research in the Herder Institute’s collections.