Friday, October 16, 2009

Cookery, anyone? And other fascinating old books...

This morning, I awoke with a distinct lack of enthusiasm for my day. I was also sweltering. It's like our radiators are suddenly coming alive in a way that they never did last winter. I will grant that I was probably overbundled in my flannel gingerbread men jammies, but still. I was cranky, sweaty, and frankly dreading my morning. I had a World Civilizations class to teach at noon, and prior to that, I was scheduled to attend a training session.

I am guilty of routinely wishing I were at the dentist receiving a root canal rather than attend these monthly training sessions we have scheduled during the fall and spring semesters. They're often long, dry, and unmemorable. I didn't expect this morning to be any different.

Well. I was in for an extremely pleasant surprise. Two of my colleagues presented on finding e-books in the humanities, and it was *excellent*. The way that they approached the session was to give us with a topic that we'd be researching for the duration of our time together, and the topic that they chose was nineteenth century cookbooks, particularly those immediately surrounding the American Civil War. At once, my interest was snagged.

Cookbooks fall prey to having an odd Library of Congress subject heading attached to them. Cookery. Who uses that word? Well, apparently, lots of people, many years ago. Another one is pigs - whenever I see "swine" listed in the subject headings I start to giggle. But I digress.

So, the sources that they showed us were fascinating. They included some subsciption sources that the library makes available to faculty and students, but what I enjoyed the most were the free sources that they demonstrated. Google Book Search is actually an amazing source of information. Many times, you can access a free blurb of recently published titles, but that's not it's main allure. Importantly, books that have copyrights which have passed into the public domain are available completely full text there. You can search by keyword and find a ton of awesome stuff.

Next, we looked at Feeding America, an online book project put together by the Michican State University library chronicling historic American cookbooks. You *must* check this out. For example, see a recipe for tea biscuits from The Woman Suffrage Cook Book, dated 1886. I immediately latched onto a book titled The American Woman's Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science; Being a Guide to the Formation and Maintenance of Economical, Healthful, Beautiful and Christian Homes, by Catharine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Interesting, interesting stuff.

This all struck a chord with me because the fictional quilting series that I'm reading right now (by Jennifer Chiaverini) is dealing with the historical hypotheses that quilts played a part around the time of the Civil War in the Underground Railroad; they may have been used as maps and signals that a particular home was a safe haven. So, with that in mind, I settled in for some post-class down time and started searching...

Going back to Google Book Search, check out the memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet A. Jacobs, available full text. How cool is this, that we can access this historic information totally free. While poking around on the quilt issue, I also found a site called Documenting the American South, put out by the University of North Carolina. There are some fabulous primary sources to be found here, including narratives from a slew of different folks living during the Civil War, and a collection specifically addressing the church in the life of the Southern African American community.

It all got my creative neurons going a bit. For one thing, the history of the American South isn't something I'm terribly proud of; but there is a lot that we can learn today from the lives of those that lived during that time. As well, the training session was incredibly effective at engaging the audience into the material, and it gave me lots of good ideas for my classes. All in all, a good Friday morning. And I have bellydance tonight; bonus :)


  1. Tiff, there's a lot of really interesting stuff relating to both food, history, AND the south here, in the Southern Foodways Alliance oral history section.

    The ones on Florida's Forgotten Coast and the Tennessee Rural Barbecue one are both pretty good -- I need to read more of these, but always forget they're there.

  2. Did you know that 'Cookery' will soon be changing to 'Cooking'? Yay, LOC!


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