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Introduction: Atlantic Foodways and the Noise of Antebellum Food Markets

Introduction: Atlantic Foodways and the Noise of Antebellum Food Markets


Hello HASTAC Scholars:

My name is Ashley Young, I am a 3rd year history PhD student at Duke University and I am brand new to the HASTAC community!  I am extremely passionate about food; my current research explores the foodways of the Atlantic World in the nineteenth century.  I am particularly interested in studying networks of municipal markets in the US South; I hope to explore ways in which to represent these food networks through digital mapping.

I’ve recently been entranced by public markets in New Orleans.  The French Market is well known throughout the United States as the oldest continuously operating public market in the country.  Established in 1784 under the Spanish colonial regime, the French Market was the backbone of New Orleans’ local food economy and a major tourist destination in the antebellum South.  The market reknowned for its great abundance of material goods and the eclectic makeup of both its vendors and customers.  In other words, the French Market was a dynamic social space where community members came not only to buy food, but also to find entertainment, exchange news, and conduct business. 

Earlier today I came across a fascinating newspaper article published on May 15, 1859 in the Daily Picayune describing the French Market as follows: “About midnight the markets begin to show signs of life […] the dull sound of cart wheels is heard, and the butchers and vegetables venders bring their quota of the daily food of New Orleans.  The noise of the bummer and the cleaver is heard, as beefsteaks, chops and ribs are separated and hung up temptingly, while pyramids of vegetables, mountains of game, and cart loads of fish are spread out upon the stalls of the other market.  Daylight appears, and the crowd of visitors keeps increasing.” 

With the launch of the SoundBox Project at Duke, I cannot help but ask questions about the noise of the antebellum market place.  The newspaper article above richly describes some of the sounds of the French Market; I am interested in incorporated an analysis of sounds into my study of Atlantic foodways. 

In addition to the references to sound in nineteenth century newspaper articles, travel narratives and literature, there was also a W.P.A. project that sought to transcribe the street cries of twentieth century marked vendors on paper.  How do we study these transcriptions to understand the meaning of sound in the market place?  What role does sound play in the creation of market culture?  How is identity bonded to sound?  What is the role of sound in cooking and consumption?  These are just a few questions I am mulling over at the moment.

I have yet to delve into secondary literature on sound studies, but I have begun to make my new project known to my colleagues at Duke.  I hope that the HASTAC community can be another space in which to exchange ideas about sound as a historical source.

Looking forward to this year,



1 comment

Hi Ashley!

It sounds like we have a lot of similar interests (and if I'm correct, I think I met one of your colleagues at Dartmouth this past summer). My dissertation is about Atlantic foodways, gender, and slave narratives, particularly within the 19th century Caribbean and U.S. (I'm looking at histories but mainly literary representations of production and consumption throughout the Altantic).

I'm just completing my first chapter draft and was thinking of researching connections of food, consumption, and slavery within New Orleans for my second, so I'm particularly interested to see your post and read about your work! The WPA project sounds fascinating and I never before considered the role of sound in cooking and consumption. Would love to talk more!

Elizabeth Hopwood