Blog Post

Intro! Digitizing the 19th Century Kitchen and Questions of Access

Hello, DH World!

(My computer science students tell me that "hello-world" is the first programming language they learn, and I'll start with it in an effort to emphasize both my enthusiasm and my n00b-ness of the digital world.) 

I'm coming at this from the perspective of someone who didn't know that Digital Humanities was a "thing" until a job talk at our school. I also did not realize that "digital humanities" was the proper name for several small projects I was already involved in! Even three years I had never used Power Point and was at the cusp of either becoming a digital dinosaur or embracing technology. I (obviously) chose the latter and dove in pedagogically: paperless classroom, student blogs and Twitter accounts, backchannel class discussions...I'm looking forward to discussing pedagogical goals, interests, and limits, especially as I'm trying to translate classroom technology into a new community college teaching job, one where accessibility has become an issue, stumbling block, and (I think) possibility.

About me: I'm a 4th year PhD Candidate in Literature at Northeastern University in Boston. Although my interests in the digital humanities began with pedagogy, I'm also interested in the "humanities" side of it, specifically how I might align DH tools and possibilities within my dissertation, which is about 19th century American and Caribbean foodways and the intersections of food with novels and narratives written by slaves.

I have a few projects in which I am interested in collaborating and further developing:

The first looks at how digital media might be used to map food culture within the U.S.  Recent media and academic attention has been paid to what we eat, where it comes from, what it looks like, and where it's sourced. Legislation has been introduced that deals with both the ethics of transparency (California's Prop 37, a Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative) and the role of government and consumer responsibility (New York's infamous ban on soda). While food blogs, websites, online communities, and diets extol a nostalgic "return" to local/organic ways of eating, obesity continues to rise while access to fresh foods is geographically limited in under-served areas. I'm interested in exploring not only the economic and political ramifications but also the cultural ones:  what does it mean to eat in America? Who's the "we" in "We are what we eat"? How might digital media be used to map and display food deserts, food sheds, and both big and small farms? How might we combine academic, literary, historical, and trade scholarship to both synthesize and digitize food culture but also re-examine it?

I'd also love to more closely align digital resources with archival work in foodways: I'm involved in a new project at Northeastern to digitize Caribbean archives, and I'd like to start digitizing scenes of cooking/eating and kitchens in 19th century novels and narratives.

Lastly, I'm concerned with digital media, pedagogy, and accessibility. When we ask students to conduct online or multimodal projects, can we assume they have access to the tools they need? I recently redesigned a digital-heavy course in order to teach a group of diverse and adult learners, some of whom need to be taught basic Internet skills, and many of whom do not have access to reliable computers outside the campus. As we include new media into our syllabuses, and even as we take the time to instruct students on basic computer know-how, are we inadvertently excluding certain socioeconomic backgrounds? How might we—as a community of teachers and academics—both recognize and contend with class differences and accessibility when using digital media in the classroom?

I look forward to developing these ideas and collaborating with you all, especially if you share an interest in food, literature, and/or digital pedagogy!



Hi, Elizabeth! It sounds like you've taken on a number of interesting projects. I'm particularly interested in what you said about access. One of my entries into DH is influenced heavily by my interests in disability studies and creating pedagogies that are accessible to a diverse range of bodies. Coming from West Virginia (born and raised), and teaching at WVU for a couple years during my Master's, I totally understand your concerns with building digital-heavy courses. I've had a number of students who needed help learning to send emails, who needed help saving their files in a particular format, etc. It's incredibly difficult trying to figure out how to teach critical digital literacies while also trying to account for students who need to learn even basic functional digital literacy. I'd love to hear any sort of successes (or ideas for how to approach these issues of access) you've had managing these differences within your own classroom!



Thanks for your reply Allison! I definitely agree that accounting for disabilities and different levels of access is a top concern when trying to incorporate digital work into the classroom. For this—my first class at a community college after 3 years at a private college (where I'm also teaching—I actually went back to my old paper-and-binder-multiple-copies-for-peer-review system. And of course, issues of accessibility aren't completely absent from non-digital courses: I have students who do not own printers and can't get to the library before my Saturday morning class; students who do not understand how to check their college email or why they should...!  I try to prioritize: what tools can I give these students that will enhance their abilities to think, write, and read critically? For my next semester I plan to inch back towards digital work, but on a smaller scale. This may mean booking several library sessions or computer labs and spending more face-to-face conference time with those students who need the extra help in getting set up. It may also mean negotiating due dates and overall lesson planning to account for students who do not have off-campus access to high speed Internet. Regardless, I'm interested in pushing them and me out of our digital comfort zones (as long as it's for a pedagogical purpose of course).

Please keep me updated and I'll do the same!



I've not made food systems a focal point of my academic research, but it's very much a side-interest and I anticipate pulling questions of "edible geography" into my scholarly work as I have the opportunity to refocus on wine studies in the next few years. Speaking of edible geography, I've borrowed that term from a splendidly executed blog of the same name. I hope that you've already encountered it but, if you haven't, look it up! 



Your research sounds fascinating! And your concerns regarding digital literacy are equally shared. I've been an adjunct instructor at a Community College while working (and teaching) at University of Washington and have witness the digital divide widen. Teaching primarily composition courses, I interested in ways in which digital literacy can be built into the core outcomes of a First-Year-Writing program throughout all the echelons of academic institutions. Any suggestions for digital literary curricula that does not occur in a computer lab? Mobile devices are an option.

As for the foodie side of me, I would love to hear more about your work. I'm a Romanticist doing work on the high culture response to popular visual culture, but already have my second project in mind (Politics of Taste in the 18th century). I was in the food and wine industry in Northern California (Napa) for 15 years and want to merge that love with my bibliophilic tendencies. I'm interest in the inventions of the restaurant and the socio-political effects and how it intersects while the literature at that time. DH, especially "Social Geography," have provided fruitful inroads through GIS, so what I'm just trying to do now is see as many different projects as possible to gather ideas.

Best of luck to you with your work and teaching...and eating!







This is such cool research. I used to love to read Penguin editions of 19th century cookbooks and to try to recreate the recipes. Much was the suffering of my friends when I made them eat syllabub. Or fried cornmeal pudding with molasses, that was memorable.
Have you checked out the NYPL's online menu database? It has a lot of 20th century menus, but some 19th century menus as well! I like these because they give an look at what people were eating in restaurants across the U.S. on a day-today basis and what things were considered luxuries (ex: celery. Who knew?)


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    Hi Elizabeth,

    Your research sounds realy interesting. I was just at a conference where professor Toni Samek from the University of Alberta, brought up concerns about securty and eclasses as spaces where students should be able to express their opinions but might feel too monitored to dissent. She writes more about it in this newsletter, along with some other anxieties that come up while thinking about eclassrooms and learning. I thought some of the stuff she brought up was really relevant for moving into a future where many of us will teach class online.