In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Food

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Regional and National Histories
  • The Columbian Exchange
  • Food Chains
  • National Cuisines
  • Food and Empire
  • Migration
  • Industrialization

Atlantic History Food
Jeffrey Pilcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0108


Food is at the heart of human societies, economies, and cultures, but historians have long considered it peripheral to their endeavors. Members of the French Annales school, with their vision of total history, were among the first historians to consider food through quantitative studies of agrarian societies and historical diets. Social historians of the 1960s also examined diets as crucial to the standard-of-living debates about the effects of early industrialization on the working classes. With the rise of cultural history, historians have expanded the scope of investigation to include the symbolic meanings foods have imparted to political regimes, ethnic identities, and consumer societies. The field of food studies is inherently interdisciplinary, in part because anthropologists and other social scientists have far-longer traditions of researching food than do historians. The study of food chains, for example, grew out of early works in rural sociology and world systems. In a similar fashion, Alfred Crosby adopted a geographical perspective to perceive the historical importance of the Columbian Exchange. Food studies scholars have contributed to Atlantic history through research on such topics as the Columbian Exchange, the role of consumption in early modern empires and plantation economies, urban provisioning and political legitimacy, cookbooks and the construction of national identities, and the rise of ethnic identities within migratory communities. And although Atlantic history often focuses on the period from 1500–1800, longue durée histories of food often pull scholars across the divide between early modernity and modern life.

General Overviews

Because food has been peripheral to historical works, used more often to illustrate points than to organize narratives, scholars have felt free to experiment with novel ways of framing their studies. Tannahill 1973, Flandrin and Montanari 1999, and Freedman 2007 follow traditional chronological narratives focused mostly on Europe, although with very different thematic emphases. Goody 1982 and Pilcher 2006 use comparative case studies to examine historical themes. Fernández Armesto 2002 writes of historic “revolutions” in production and distribution, while Kiple 2007 organizes his history around globalization.

  • Fernández Armesto, Felipe. Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food. New York: Free Press, 2002.

    A pleasant divertissement organized around eight “revolutions”: cooking, ritual, herding, farming, hierarchy, long-distance trade, the Columbian Exchange, and industrialization.

  • Flandrin, Jean-Louis, and Massimo Montanari, eds. Food: A Culinary History. Translated by Albert Sonnenfeld. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

    A magisterial volume with essays synthesizing a wealth of research ranging from classical times through the early modern period; strongest on France and Italy.

  • Freedman, Paul, ed. Food: The History of Taste. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

    This interesting and beautifully illustrated volume seeks to undertake a cultural and sensory history of taste.

  • Goody, Jack. Cooking, Cuisine, and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

    An extension of the author’s earlier anthropological work on the “domestication of the savage mind,” this important theoretical work associated written recipes, haute cuisine, and the masculinization of professional cooking with hierarchically differentiated societies.

  • Kiple, Kenneth F. A Moveable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511512148

    A collection of fascinating stories distilled from Kiple’s two-volume reference guide, and like the larger work, stronger on histories of individual foodstuffs and of nutritional health than on the processes of globalization.

  • Pilcher, Jeffrey M. Food in World History. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    A brief, topical survey employing comparative case studies to analyze cross-cultural encounters, culinary modernization, national cuisines, industrialization, and colonialism.

  • Tannahill, Reay. Food in History. New York: Stein and Day, 1973.

    A dated but well-written narrative history of food, largely following the arc of Western civilization.

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