Cultures of Consumption in Early Modern Europe

wrocah cultures of consumption image (2)

In early modern society, diet offered nutrition; expressed national, regional and class identity; and was used to maintain and restore health. Between 1500 and 1700 cultures of consumption and attitudes to diet were in transition due to changing medical attitudes, new commercial empires and an increasingly wide range of available comestibles (notably sugar, tomatoes, tobacco, potatoes).

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 Network Lead:  Professor Cathy Shrank, University of Sheffield

Institution Student Studentship Topic Principal Supervisor Second Supervisor
York Annamaria Valent Cultural encounters from the ambassador’s court to the English kitchen: Anglo-Iberian networks and the exchange of medical and culinary knowledge Dr Helen Smith (English and Related Literature, York) Dr Iona McCleery (History, Leeds)
Leeds Giovanni Pozzetti Diet, health, and identity in early modern England and Italy: A comparative study of the application and understanding of Galenic principles Dr Alexandra Bamji (History, Leeds) Professor Cathy Shrank (English, Sheffield)
Sheffield Jose Cree The invention of addiction in early modern England Professor Phil Withington (History, Sheffield ) Dr Tania Demetriou (English and Related Literature, York)

The influx, adoption and new accessibility of these products had profound and lasting impact on how Europeans consumed and they thought about consumption, use and dependency. At the same time, ideas about diet – informed by Galenic principles of classical medicine – were popularised, adapted and affected by new knowledge, which often originated in Italy, where many European physicians trained.

This network interrogates:

  • the temporal, geographic and social dimensions of cultural translation
  • the transmission, interpretation and transformation of texts, ideas, beliefs and practices between geographical locations, cultural contexts and historical moments, from the ancient world to the Renaissance
    • between England, Iberia, Italy and the ‘new worlds’
    • and amongst diverse social groups.

The network will examine the role of intermediaries who performed the work of cultural translation (merchants, writers, professional and amateur practitioners), and the vehicles (texts, artefacts, rituals) through which they did so.  It fulfils the AHRC’s intention of promoting opportunities for researchers to work across language areas, disciplines and national boundaries, and also aligns with strategic aims of the ‘Science in Culture’ theme, through its connection with the health humanities.

The network is interdisciplinary and cross-cultural and three areas have been identified as ripe for research. Each area utilises the complementary expertise of the six supervisors, who are specialists in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature and culture (Shrank, Smith), the reception of classical ideas and texts (Demetriou), and the social and cultural history of, respectively, Italy, Iberia and England (Bamji, McCleery, Withington). However, the wide range of sources available and comparative approach taken means that students can develop projects according to their individual strengths and interests.

The importation of Iberian foodstuffs and recipes into England

Owing to religious and political tensions characterising English-Spanish relations throughout this period, scholars have largely neglected the trading, familial and diplomatic networks that brought together Spanish and English cultures; equally, little work has been undertaken into patterns of consumption within the Iberian peninsula or the extent to which Iberian foodstuffs were recognised and marked as such in English contexts. Yet there are available a wide variety of sources, from recipe books to travellers’ accounts and ambassadorial papers, that chart the translation of Iberian techniques and commodities into England.

The understanding and application of Galenic principles about diet in England and Italy

Studies of early modern medicine tend to homogenise the reception of Galen. Scarcely no comparative work has been done on how climate, culture and religion affected the interpretation of classical views on diet and informed local and regional dietary practices; the assimilation of Galenic practices in domestic settings also needs work. A broad range of material is available in manuscript and print (by ‘celebrity’ chefs, compilers of family ‘receipt’ books) to explore the varied appropriation of Galenic medicine and its impact on what people ate to restore and maintain health.

Ideas and languages of addiction

Scant attention has been paid to the emergence of an English language of ‘addiction’, which powerfully frames much modern medical and social discourse surrounding consumption. Work is needed to trace the translation of classical medical, philosophical and legal concepts surrounding consumption and moderation within the context of changing fashions in food and drink, and to explore the utilisation of these concepts in public and private discourses. Sources available include sermons, medical treatises, civil and ecclesiastical court record