The first seminar of the Easter Term addressed the topic of “Food”, as discussed by Dr. Melissa Calaresu and Dr. Emma Spary, both from the University of Cambridge. You can listen to it here.

We first heard Dr. Calaresu’s talk “Material and ephemerality in the history of food: The case of ice cream”. Drawing on sources that included written and visual records, as well as object artifacts, she traced the evolution of the Neapolitan ice cream trade, and considered how something that began as a luxury became more widely available. She began by explaining the mechanics of the process of making ice cream, from the collection of snow at the top of Monte Faito and its transfer to the port of Vico Equense, to the manufacture of the ice cream in sorbettiere, which were comprised of a metal interior canister and a larger, wooden barrel exterior, along with a long paddle with which to churn the ice cream. Because the wooden barrels have not survived in most instances, much of the process has been reconstructed using gouaches and oil paintings of daily life in 18th century Naples.

We next heard from Dr. Spary, who gave a talk entitled “Vanishing, assimilating and circulating: food as matter in eighteenth century Paris”. She considered the question “what sort of a ‘thing’ is food?” and explained the French “matter theory” of food and its route to absorption into the body. Her talk was punctuated by the entertaining enactment (with the help of Dr. Calaresu) of a dialogue between Diderot and d’Alembert on the subject of matter and digestion, as well as by illustrations and explanations of various French experiments in nutritional chemistry and the diagnosis and treatment of obesity.

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