Food: A Global Environmental History [CRN 77196]

Discipline: History
Instructor: Howkins
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1340
End: 1500
Field Work: Day 1 - Civitavecchia - Monday, 26 September | September 26, 2016 | Italy
Prerequisites: Three (3) history credits AND completion of 45 credits Download Syllabus


The history of food offers an excellent subject for revealing the global interconnectedness of environmental history.  After a short introduction to the field of food history, the course will focus on a series of regional case studies ranging from pre-history to the present.  In each location the course will consider how and why distinctive food cultures developed and what impact these food cultures have had on local and global environments.  What are the causes of food abundance and what are its consequences?  How does food scarcity come about, and what impact does it have?  What is the connection between national food cultures and perceptions of the material environment?  By putting together these regional case studies broader patterns will emerge that will allow connections to be made with broader themes in world history such as imperialism, industrialization, and the development of environmentalism.

The course will be divided into three sections, which will follow our voyage from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to the Americas.  The first section will examine food histories of the “Old World,” at the same time as introducing students to the new approaches to the academic study of food.  The second section will center on the theme of “Transatlantic Exchanges” and examine how a focus on food can offer new perspectives on the history of slavery and empire.  The third section will consider food histories of the “New World,” with a particular emphasis on thinking about global connections in relation to politics, culture, and the material environment.  Taken together, the course will offer a dynamic introduction to the field of food history and demonstrate how it is a useful perspective for thinking about the history of the global environment.


By the end of this course students will be able to think historically about the theme of food and connect their own national, regional and personal “foodways” to wider trends in global environmental history.  They will learn to think about food as a “primary source” that can reveal much about a particular culture at a particular time.  By thinking about food in this way, students will be encouraged to see the potential for thinking historically and environmentally about other aspects of daily life.

Field Work

Country: Italy
Day: 1 - Civitavecchia - Monday, 26 September
Date: September 26, 2016

This course will spend a lot of time thinking about how studying the history of food can help us to engage with some of the most pressing food-related questions in the contemporary world.  One important force in modern food politics is the Slow Food Movement, which has its origins in Italy and “Old World” food traditions.  This field class will allow students to engage directly with the theory and practice of Slow Food in its continent of origin.  While the Slow Food movement has much to commend it, a historical perspective raises important questions about the cultural values implied by a return to traditional agricultural and culinary traditions.  Is it possible to take what is good about the modern food system (convenience, “liberation” from the kitchen, etc.) and combine it with the manifesto espoused by the Slow Food movement? Learning objectives:

  1. Students will analyze the historical and geographical context in which the slow food movement originated.
  2. Students will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the slow food movement by considering its historical context.
  3. Students will practice using food as sources of historical information.