Introductory Seminar in Pre-1700 European History

Food in the Early Modern World

From Thanksgiving turkeys to birthday cakes, food reveals much about our culture, heritage, and social ties.  Through the lens of food, this course explores the culture and society of early modern Europe (c. 1450-1800) as it entered a wider world.  In this period, Europeans encountered tomatoes, potatoes, and coffee for the first time.  They also lived in a world in which some ate bread made of sawdust because there was not enough food to go around.  A food as ordinary as bread was also bound up with divisive questions about religion, while the demand for sugar drove the formation of the colonies and the trade in slaves.  How does food help us understand the transformation of European society and culture in this period?  Throughout the semester, we will explore this question from the perspective of peasants and explorers, through fairy tales and medical texts, and in images of cannibalism and everyday life.  This course also provides an introduction to a few of the many ways in which historians think about the past as we explore the social, cultural, economic, and religious histories of food.  We will also focus closely on writing skills through a series of response papers and a final essay.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts