Pilcher, “Food History”

The “The Embodied Imagination in Recent Writings on Food History”, written by Jeffrey Pilcher, discusses the increase of the historical research of food and the cultural history that has risen from this.  Pilcher discusses the term “embodied imagination” which “offers a useful means for conceptualizing the connections between sensory perceptions of food such as flavor, warmth, and satiety; the material work of preparing and consuming food; and cultural and social abstractions” (862).  This term is very important because now historians can use food as a social and cultural means in order to gain a completely different perspective on history.  Next, Pilcher discusses three recurring themes which are “social distinction, industrial transformation, and food politics” which “are often expressed through the embodied imagination of taste, purity, and hunger” (863).  Once again, by using food as another outlet for history, historians can dive into these three distinct themes.  Next, Pilcher discusses the where the study of changing tastes started, which was in Europe, within the elite class because of their wide array of opportunities and options provided (865).  Within Europe, the French Culinary Revolution has been the most studied (865).  Furthermore, Pilcher discusses how historians are going beyond the pure taste sensations of individuals, but they are now looking at the linguistic vocabulary used to describe food (868).  Also, sensory experiences around food can also be documented for research (869).  And through the sensory tastes of an individual, apparently race also plays a factor (871).  Pilcher notes how “Periodization has become an important question in the historiography on the food industry, as scholars debate exactly when and how an industrial diet of sugars and fats came to replace the carbohydrate-centered peasant diets of the premodern world” (878).  First of all, this is so cool!  I would have never thought about this, but I can completely see how by looking at this through a historical lens, the findings a historian could find!  The physical experience of hunger as a study for research is noted in this article because of the manipulation of food on people’s body, social standing, culture, etc. (882).  Overall, this article covered main focuses of food history and how it can help historians see different perspectives of the past.  I absolutely loved this read and as a historian, find this very necessary to focus on while studying the past.

Howell and Prevenier “Source Criticism” and “Historical Interpretation”

To start off with the excerpt, Howell and Prevenier discuss the genealogy of a document.  They get into detail about documents being copied and not being the original.  They state that copies often have faults in them and how historians can trace these copies back to the original (61).  Next, they discuss the genesis of a document by looking at when the document was created and by who (62).  They state that historians have to look at the reason behind the document which can help them analyze the time period (diaries, legal documents, etc.) (63).  Then, Howell and Prevenier discuss the originality of the document.  They state that when historians look at the document, they note that “most of the documents that come from the past . . . are products of an intellectual tradition” (63).  Historians have to break codes, read other documents from that time period, or just have to analyze the document in order to understand why it was written (64).  Next, they discuss the interpretation of a document by stating that trying to find the meaning of a document can be very tricky for historians.  Authorial authority is discussed next in which the authors note that historians must figure out who wrote the document; was it someone from that time period or was it passed down to them? (65).  Which relates directly with the competence of the observer – how were they mentally or physically when the document was written? (66).  Lastly, that leads historians to the trustworthiness of the observer – if they are not trustworthy, historians must analyze the documents very carefully (68).

The next reading, the Historical Interpretation, Howell and Prevenier discuss three ways in which to interpret historical documents.  The first way they note is that historians must compare sources in order to confirm their sources, or even contradict their findings (which is also very beneficial) (69).  Next, Howell and Prevenier note that historians must have enough information on their study in order to correctly understand their findings (79).  For some instances, more information is needed then others, and also sometimes not many documents are produced in a specific time period, so less information is okay.  Lastly, they discuss that not all facts matter to the historian.  Yes, they can be taken into consideration, but historians do not need to use them all, only the important ones that relate to their research (84-85).

The Source – the Basis of Our Knowledge

First off, the authors begin discussing what exactly a source is and discusses the various kinds.  First, they note “relics or remains” that “offer the researcher a clue about the past simply by virtue of their existence” (17).  The second source they note are testimonies which are oral and/or written accounts of an event that occurred in the past (17).   Both are noted that they were created at that time for an important meaning or a specific purpose (18).  Later, the authors note how historians use these sources/artifacts in order to gain an understanding of what happened/occurred during the time period (19).  In part B of the article, the authors discuss the source typologies such as narratives, memoirs, social documents, and diplomatic sources and get into detail regarding the individual importance of having these documents from a certain time period.  For example, they noted that having a memoir explains “the outcome of a life” and does not “record its process” (21).  Next, the authors discuss how historians do not solely rely on written evidence, but can look at oral such as stories, sound recordings, radio talks, computer files, etc. (24-25).  Also, it is important to understand that oral records “can complement the written” (26).  Lastly, the authors discuss how historians store their information in archives.  They discuss the issues with archives being destroyed in the past, but also note how beneficial archives are; they store important documents that historians have access too for research.