Collaborative Teaching: Food in History

This Spring, the History Department experimented with a collaboratively-taught, grant-funded thematic class about Food in History.Food in History class

The course, coordinated by Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán, was uniquely designed to showcase the faculty’s diverse geographical and methodological expertise. It was taught by nine History faculty members from the Oxford and regional campuses and featured four guest lecturers from other academic units or universities. 

Organized roughly along chronological lines, the course began with an overview of medieval European foodways, and ended with the global industrialized food complex, traversing time and space through China, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Russia, South Africa, the U.S., and Mexico along the way.

Class members explored:

  • the ways that economic historians see food as commodities that link regions of the world together through trade;
  • cultural historians see it as a marker of identities;
  • social historians use it as an organizing principle around which gendered labor, family structures, and power dynamics are established;
  • environmental historians examine the ways that patterns of food production have altered soil conditions and waterways.

Food in History classThe serendipitous evening meeting time lent itself to an unforeseen perk: most faculty members supplemented their lectures with a thematically-relevant dinner (or snack) for the class.

For a final assignment, students were asked to design a restaurant to expand Uptown Oxford’s culinary selections, and to reflect on the historical foodways learned in class in designing its theme, clientele, décor, and menu.

This collaboratively-taught class is the second of its type; in Fall 2014 the History faculty taught a course on 1968: The Year that Changed the World. This model is intended to bring students in contact with a wide selection of the department’s faculty, as well as to encourage pedagogical development and build collegiality at the instructional level.

Students reported satisfaction with their experience, reporting that the diversity of instruction gave them a positive impression of the respective talents of the participating faculty. Different teaching styles accommodated a range of learning styles, and the rotating roster of professors kept the course material fresh and interesting. The food, of course, provided icing on the cake, so to speak.