Blog Post

Creole Gumbo, Food Markets, and Mapping: Introduction by a Food Scholar

Yesterday, after making my way home from the Southern Historical Association Annual Meeting in St. Louis, I came back to the Big Easy to find my neighborhood immersed in the celebration of Voodoo Fest.  Festivalgoers meandered by with steaming bowls of filé gumbo in one hand and a well-nursed glass of Abita Amber in the other—evidence of the lively festival season that completely takes over New Orleans in autumn.


As a scholar of Southern culture and 19th century culinary history in the Atlantic World, I cannot imagine a better place to be writing my blog post than New Orleans—a bastion of the unique Creole food cultures born from the braiding of West African, European, Caribbean, and American Indian food traditions in the Early Modern period.  Between trips to the archive, I find myself combing the city newspapers and local blogosphere for references to the best/the most unique jambalaya, red beans, crawfish éttoufée, and banh mi—dishes that have captivated the palates of New Orleanians and tourist alike for generations.


Currently, my research has taken a turn towards cultural geography as I have mapped the growth of New Orleans’ population alongside the proliferation of its expansive public marketplace system in the 19th century—the largest, by sheer numbers, in the United States.  I am interested in the ways that neighborhood marketplaces adapted their offerings to match the ethnic and racial identities and food cultures of the residents of that particular neighborhood.  As one can imagine, these public marketplaces also served as community meeting grounds—bringing together seemingly distinct ethnic and racial enclaves on a daily basis to feed the city.


As I sift through municipal records detailing the regulation of public marketplaces and private grocers in New Orleans, I cannot help but daydream about the dozens of digital projects just waiting to come to fruition through this rich archival data—I am particularly captivated by the thought of using interactive maps to highlight the simultaneous growth of urban populations and food marketplaces.  I find this type of digital project particularly appealing because my dissertation is comparative in nature, drawing Southern port cities such as New Orleans, Baltimore, and Savannah into conversation with one another—what better way to understand the parallel growth of these urban food systems than through data visualization?


Aside from food cultures and mapping, I am also interested in digital pedagogy.  Last year as a HASTAC 2013 scholar, I experimented with digital tools such as Twitter and Google Drive in the classroom to demonstrate the effectiveness (and, at times, lack thereof) of live-tweeting and collective note taking in the classroom.  You can check out my reflection on the subject through this blog post: Heeding the Call: Experimenting with Google Drive and Twitter in the Classroom.


I am a member of the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge and a co-founder of the Digital History Working Group at Duke University.  This year, I am also a digital liaison for the Duke History Department—connecting graduate students to the digital initiatives and opportunities across the university.  Additionally, I am interested in compiling a how-to guide on creating a scholarly community around the Digital Humanities at the university level.


I look forward to another year of brainstorming, experimentation, and dynamic conversation with the HASTAC 2014 cohort!


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