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Food, Fashion and Material Culture


Belief, identity, and politics were all important in the lives of early modern people, but on a very basic level, food, clothes and things were what determined what daily life looked like. The things that people ate, wore and owned, and how they made choices about those things, have become more important for historians in recent years. In part, this is because historians are increasingly interested in the lives of ordinary people and in part because we have more access to recipes, descriptions of costumes and clothes, and material records (in museums, or from archaeological excavations) than we did before. The questions you might ask yourself include whether knowledge about early modern people’s possessions and food and clothing practices helps you understand them better, and whether this knowledge of daily material conditions makes them seem more different from us, or more like us.



  • What can (and can’t) recipes tell us about early modern history?
  • Where and how can we access early modern material culture today?
  • Was fashion important in the early modern world?



The compleat English and French cook (1658); or

Exercise: pick one recipe, and bring it to class, being prepared to explain why you chose it, and how it could serve as a historical source.



Pennell, Sara. “‘Pots and Pans History’: The material culture of the kitchen in early modern England.” Journal of Design History 11.3 (1998): 201-216.



Gerritsen, Anne and Giorgio Riello, ‘The global exchange of goods’, in Beat Kümin (ed.), The European World (3rd ed, 2018), 205-14

Gerritsen, Anne and Giorgio Riello, ‘Introduction’ in The Global Lives of Things: The Material Culture of Connections in the Early Modern World (2015)

Lehmann, Gilly, ‘Reading recipe books and culinary history: opening a new field’ in DiMeo, Michelle, and Sara Pennell. Reading and Writing Recipe Books, 1550-1800 (2013).

Lemire, Beverly, ‘Draping the body and dressing the home: the material culture of textiles and clothes in the Atlantic world, c. 1500-1800’ in Karen Harvey, ed., History and material culture: a student’s guide to approaching alternative sources (2009)

Kümin, Beat A., A Cultural History of Food in the Early Modern Age: Volume 4. (London, 2014), ch. 5 or ch. 7



Albala, Ken. A Cultural History of Food in the Renaissance: Volume 3. (London, 2014)

Appadurai, Arjun, ‘Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value’, in ibid., ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective’ (Cambridge, 1986), 3-63.

Avery, V. ,Calaresu, M., and Laven, M.,(eds.), Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (2015).

Findlen, Paula. Early Modern Things: Objects and Their Histories, 1500-1800 (London, 2013).

Hamling, T., and Richardson, C., (eds), Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture and its meanings (2010)

Lemire, Beverly, and Giorgio Riello. “East & West: Textiles and Fashion in Early Modern Europe.” Journal of Social History, vol. 41, no. 4 (2008), pp. 887–916.

Lloyd, Paul S.; Food and Identity in England, 1540–1640 (London, 2015)

Riello, Giorgio and Anne Gerritsen, Writing Material Culture History (London, 2014)

Rublack, Ulinka, ‘Renaissance Dress, Cultures of Making, and the Period Eye’, West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 23:1 (2016), 6-34

Sarti, Raffaella. Europe at Home: Family and Material Culture, 1500-1800 (New Haven, 2004).

Sturtewagen, Isis, and Bruno Blondé, ‘Playing by the rules?: dressing without sumptuary laws in the Low Countries from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century’ in Brewer, J.,and Porter, R.,(eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods (1993)

Welch, Evelyn. Fashioning the Early Modern: Dress, Textiles, and Innovation in Europe, 1500-1800 (Oxford, 2017).