Harvard Food+ Research Symposium: Joyce Chaplin | Summary and Q&A

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April 16, 2015
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Harvard University
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Harvard Food+ Research Symposium: Joyce Chaplin

TL;DR

Jane's remains from the Jamestown colony confirm eyewitness accounts of survival cannibalism and shed light on the long-overlooked history of food in America.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How did the remains of a colonist named Jane reveal the reality of survival cannibalism in the Jamestown colony?

Jane's remains, excavated in 2013, showed clear signs of cannibalism, confirming eyewitness accounts and dispelling prior dismissals of survival cannibalism as propaganda.

Q: Why has food history been marginalized by academic historians?

Historians have prioritized ideology over material origins, fearing the label of material determinism. Food history has also been seen as frivolous and associated with culinary history, which some deem as less important.

Q: How is food history useful in understanding culture, class, and gender?

Food acts as a powerful analytical tool that reveals cultural preferences, social class distinctions, and gender roles, providing valuable insights into diverse aspects of society.

Q: Has the perception of America as a land of plenty hindered the study of food history?

Yes, the prejudice that America has always been abundant with food has discouraged rigorous examination. However, scholars now recognize that hunger and scarcity have been prevalent even in the past.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Jane, a 400-year-old female colonist from Jamestown, was cannibalized after death during the starving winter of 1609-1610.

  • Historians have been hesitant to include food history in their analysis, prioritizing ideology over material origins.

  • The perception of food history as frivolous is changing as scholars recognize its significance in understanding culture, class, and gender.

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