Food History

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

In the quarter-century since this Companion was first conceived and written, the study of food history has changed out of all recognition. Much of the early work was undertaken by amateurs and non-professionals, and any idea of making food, the culinary arts, or domestic history a central issue of academic study was incredible. There were, of course, exceptions. Economic historians were interested in how diet impacted on performance; political historians were excited by the consequences of famine and dearth; some medieval researchers were intrigued by culinary recipe manuscripts. But there would be no material alteration until historians had absorbed some cross-disciplinary inspiration from anthropology, ethnology, and related fields. At one time this array of topics would have been apportioned between groups of scholars bearing labels such as anthropology (now subdivided into cultural anthropology, social anthropology, etc.—the phrase culinary anthropology has also come into use), sociology, ethnology, and so forth. Times change, and these disciplines are now less sharply defined, more prone to overlap and coalesce, and subject also to amiable invasion by writers bearing none of the familiar labels but discussing the same subjects. Once there had been this great liberation of historical endeavour, people began to realize that food and food customs could tell us a great deal about earlier societies. The consequent avalanche of books, articles, and university courses shows no sign of flagging.