Table Settings: The Material Culture and Social Context of Dining, AD 1700-1900
Oxbow Books, 2010 - Cooking - 181 pages
Fernand Braudel famously observed that the 'mere smell of cooking can evoke a whole civilization'. The way that food is prepared, served, and eaten reveals a great deal about the structure and workings of any society. It is therefore not surprising that food, and the culturally specific etiquettes and equipment that surround the act of eating, have been studied by scholars from a wide range of disciplines.
The papers in this volume consider the changes that occurred in Old and New World dining and related culinary activities between the 17th century and the early 20th century. This period saw the widespread acceptance of the fork in dining and the adoption of routinized etiquettes to govern eating. In the 18th century, the rise of individualism ushered in new forms of segmented dining based upon symmetrically-arranged tables and individual place settings. Against this backdrop of manufactured uniformity, made possible by advances in industrial production, highly stylized dining rituals and haute cuisine - previously the exclusive domain of European courtly elites - entered the homes and routines of the 'middling sort'. Henceforth, material expressions of status and social identity became commonplace at the table, and an integral part of dining in all but the humblest homes.
The unique contribution of this volume lies in the way in which a distinguished group of international historical archaeologists have combined the richness of primary archaeological evidence with a wealth of documentary evidence to create insightful new material histories of dining. The new light which this throws upon manufacturing processes, feasting rituals, the rise of respectability, the inter-continental spread of the Victorian cult of domesticity, and foodways among peripheral agricultural communitie, will be of interest to scholars beyond archaeology, in the cognate fields of anthropology, social and economic history, cultural geography, and material culture studies.
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