JBS review of Robins, Cotton and Race

In a new review forthcoming in the Journal of British Studies, Steven Toms says Cotton and Race across the Atlantic is “an absorbing interplay of economics and politics straddling three continents at the height of the age of imperialism,” and “a valuable contribution to the history of cotton, not just of the commodity, but also of theContinue reading “JBS review of Robins, Cotton and Race”

Vegetable oil: more important than steel?

This experiment in research blogging has slowed down quite a bit, in part because I haven’t been able to do much new research. Getting back into a  research routine after a summer spent on other projects is taking time. Today’s accidental find is the USDA’s Inventory of Seeds and Plants Imported, a register of specimens sentContinue reading “Vegetable oil: more important than steel?”

The perils of borrowing citations (or: did ancient Egyptians really use palm oil?)

I admit to having read articles and books for the sole purpose of looking at their bibliography.  It’s easy to borrow a few citations from those who have done similar work before, especially if you need to fill out a section of background information. Problems arise when we don’t actually read the sources, however. Example A: Friedel,Continue reading “The perils of borrowing citations (or: did ancient Egyptians really use palm oil?)”

Wartime fat shaming (1917)

Here’s another story from the Cornell University Archives. Faculty at the NY State College of Home Economics worked closely with the federal Food Administration to develop and manage food rationing during the First World War. Home Economists taught people how to use underutilized foods, but in calling on citizens to “do their fair share” inContinue reading “Wartime fat shaming (1917)”

An Englishman’s list of unappetizing food (1839)

Cornell’s archive holds notes from the Herrington Food Science lectures, c. 1951-1961, which were part of a basic course in the history of nutrition for undergraduates. The professor quoted an obscure treatise on egg incubation by William Bucknell for its description of food in Europe. Up to a third of Englishmen, according to Bucknell, “subsist almostContinue reading “An Englishman’s list of unappetizing food (1839)”

99.9% Communist (Home Economics and the Cold War)

Last summer I was fortunate enough to spend six weeks at Cornell University, exploring their huge collection of material on the history of home economics. I am finishing an article on colonial and post-colonial food policy in Ghana, and remembered one of the reasons I applied to work at Cornell: a 1960s project to startContinue reading “99.9% Communist (Home Economics and the Cold War)”

Palm oil and deforestation in SE Asia

In a new article, Peter Guest examines one of the most dangerous trends in oil palm cultivation: the explosion of smallholder cultivation alongside large-scale plantations and processing mills. Guest visits the front lines of the oil palm frontier in Sumatra, where large and small plantations are encroaching on sensitive forest ecosystems. Peter Guest: “Last stand atContinue reading “Palm oil and deforestation in SE Asia”

“Fatter Cows, Slimmer Women”

That was how Newsweek described the work of the Cornell University nutrition program in a 1953 article. I’m reviewing notes I took last summer at the Cornell archives, where I was fortunate to be working as the College of Human Ecology Dean’s Fellow. My goal was to trace changing ideas about fat in the American diet,Continue reading ““Fatter Cows, Slimmer Women””

American exodus, viewed from Africa

In Cotton and Race across the Atlantic, I wrote about several attempts to transplant African Americans to Africa. The idea of emigration is an old one, dating a century beyond the well-known antics of Marcus Garvey and his “back to Africa” movement. Historians have written a lot about African American emigration movements, but relatively little is knownContinue reading “American exodus, viewed from Africa”

The “Special Relationship” in Action

In 1943, the allied powers met at Hot Springs, Arkansas, to discuss the future of food and agriculture in the post-war order. I’m going to spend more time researching this event, but in the meantime, enjoy a brief excerpt from a British report on the conference which illustrates how British politicians thoroughly enjoyed playing theContinue reading “The “Special Relationship” in Action”