This site showcases the research and work of Harvard University Summer School students. As part of the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality course, “Gender, Food & Culture in American History” (taught by Marilyn Morgan), students conducted archival research about the gendering of food in the United States from 1845 through the present day. At the same time, they learned some digital skills, including how to construct a digital timeline and share research findings in an engaging, if non-traditional, manner.
At the core of the course lives gender-based ideas about food that permeate American popular culture. Is there truth to the adage, “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?” Do women really “crave chocolate?” Where did such gendered ideas about food originate? Some messages about food and gender have remained remarkably consistent over time. Advertisements and cooking instruction have targeted women, predominantly, as consumers, caregivers, and above all, as nurturing wives and mothers. Instructional films, advertisements, and popular television shows reinforced a direct association between women’s preparation of food, love, and heteronormative ideals.
As a group, the class examined advertisements, treatises on cooking, popular cooking instruction (including cookbooks, ads, and radio and television cooking shows). We also analyzed portrayals of cooking in popular films and television shows to understand how gender, ethnicity, race, and socioeconomic class shaped the production, preparation, marketing, and consumption of food throughout twentieth-century America and how ideas about food in turn shaped cultural attitudes about gender roles.
Working independently within the archives of the Schlesinger Library of the History of Women in America, students examined archival collections, cookbooks, and culinary pamphlets. First taught in Summer 2013, the course attracted students from diverse regions in North America (including New England, various southern states, and the west coast), Australia, and Taiwan. Diverse background brought rich cultural awareness to their research about food.