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Michigan State University

Cookbooks and Food History: Term paper ideas

Cookbooks are a valuable resource for studying social history, ethnic traditions, folk medicine, and gender studies - and of course, culinary history!

What kind of cookbooks do we have at MSU? All kinds! Here are a few ideas:

Ethnic cookbooks

Book cover Svensk Amerikansk Kokbok

Regional cooking

Book cover The Kentucky Housewife

International cookbooks

Book cover Ma cuisine Malagache

Manuscript cookbooks

Image of manuscript cookbook

Recipe booklets from food manufacturers

Junior League cookbooks and cookbooks for entertaining

Book cover Let's Give a Party cookbook

Historic African American cookbooks

Book cover What Mrs Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking

What topics can you research using cookbooks?

Cookbooks are a marvelous resource for topics in social history, ethnic traditions, gender studies, and much more. Here are a few ideas to help you brainstorm! Remember, the staff in Special Collections are always happy to work with you.

More ideas!

Even more ideas to pique your interest! Cookbooks are an essential resource for these topics and many more:

The evolution of vegetarianism in the 19th and 20th centuries

The history of soul food and its place in African American culture

Stretching and conserving food resources during World War II

The development of nutritional science in the 19th and 20th centuries

How cooking practices were influenced by refrigeration, which became widespread in the 1930s

Health food movements: what do they reveal about our society's values?

How minority communities have influenced local tastes (and cross-cultural hybrid cuisines)

Popular approaches to using diet to treat illnesses or chronic conditions, such as cancer or asthma

Thanks to Nicole Edge for these ideas!

Food and celebrations

Food is an essential part of any celebration. Use cookbooks to learn about traditions for religious observances, patriotic holidays, ethnic festivals, and more.

Book cover Elena's Fiesta RecipesBook cover Jewish Festival Cooking

Cross-cultural cooking

Cookbooks are a tremendous source of evidence about the meeting of cultures.

The transatlantic slave trade, the Jewish diaspora, and European colonization of Africa and Asia all had an impact on cooking traditions.

And, the intersection of food customs still occurs through immigration and international commerce. Here are just a few examples:

♦ Indian Dishes for English Tables (1910)

♦ Mother Africa's Table: A Collection of West African and African American Recipes and Cultural Traditions (1998)

♦ Spanish-American Cookbook, by the American Women's Club of Madrid (1969)

♦ The Kenya Settlers' Church Cookery Book & Household Guide (1944)

♦ Our Favorite Recipes, by the International Women's Club of Yaounde, Cameroon (1950s)

Cooking and gender roles

Many 19th century American cookbooks included plentiful advice on household management and raising children -- illustrating the social roles women were expected to fill. Examples:

The American Woman's Home, or, Principles of Domestic Science (1869)

Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery (1873)

Find more:

  • Use the search term "home economics"
  • Limit to location "Special Collections"
  • Sort results by date

Folk medicine

Cookbooks from before 1900 often included "recipes" for home remedies, such as cough syrups or salves to treat burns, along with advice on caring for the sick. A few titles with especially rich contents in this area:

A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick and surgery; for the use of all good wives, tender mothers, and careful nurses, by Mary Kettilby (1728) -- Special Collections, XX TX705.K45 1728.

The compleat housewife... Being a collection of upwards of six hundred of the most approved receipts in cookery... To which is added, a collection of above three hundred family receipts of medicines, by Eliza Smith (1746) -- Special Collections, XX TX705.S53 1746.

Find more:

  • Use the search term "medicine, popular"
  • Limit to location "Special Collections"
  • Sort results by date