2017-18 Annual Theme
"Food and...," the Humanities Center's 2017-2018 theme, crosses disciplines and invites many kinds of thinkers and critical conversations. We all eat, yet what counts as appealing, nourishing, traditional food in one culture is repulsive in another. What is cheap and ordinary in one time and place is luxury in another. Oysters, for example, were the poor food of the working class in early nineteenth-century England and New York. Now, after decades of over-harvesting, elites jockey for position in selecting specific types of this expensive delicacy. Religious practices dictate what may be consumed and when for numerous kinds of believers.
The explosion of food studies at the end of the twentieth century was an institutional response to the myriad ways in which food might be approached by scholars, and the field has only expanded in the intervening years. As the introduction to a recent anthology of essays on food and theatre notes, food carries "symbolic and material unwieldiness," showing "comestibles and their consumption to be both bedrock and flashpoints of cultural identity."
Ways into the "what" following the ellipsis in "Food and..." may fall under several broad thematic categories: culture, literature, politics, environment, technology, health. Topics under these large rubrics include malnutrition, access, education, inequities, media representations, depictions in fine art, sustainability, ecology(s), local food, small scale agriculture, agribusiness, taboo, packaging, eating disorders, marketing, terroir, and gastronomy. This list is not exhaustive. Humanistic ways of looking at food run the gamut from "primary source in material culture to semiotic tool; from literary trope to exchangeable commodity; from colonial weapon to method of cultural resistance; from obsession either due to absence or to fetish; from comfort, reassurance, and sustenance to oddity or source of disgust; from sin to salvation," and, in addition, from welcoming gesture to coercive faux hospitality; and from political bribe to political rallying point.
The Humanities Center's 2017-2018 themed events will be realized across several platforms, including a guest lecture series, a museum exhibit, a film series, a reading colloquium, the presence of a visiting scholar, and an anticipated interdisciplinary conference. All iterations are open to addressing food as nourishment, metaphor, global challenge, cultural system, and marker of identity, across and between the disciplines: "Food and..." opens doors to exploring ways of knowing, nourishing, and conceiving oneself and others; and to experiencing and reimagining relationships between food sources and sourcers, food purveyors and consumers, food shapers and food thinkers. The myriad conceptualizations and human experiences of food offer the critic, the thinker, and the eater a prime node of analysis—a "place at the table" of intellectual and public discourse.
All talks are open to the public. As historian/theorist Christopher Balme writes, "The public sphere is integral to our notions of the future and futurity, because it provides a discursive prerequisite for shaping things to come." Join the conversation!
The Humanities Center hosted its inaugural conference March 29-31, 2018. For more information about the conference, please visit: Conference Info.