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A Global History of Food (HI2A7): Assessment and Contact Hours

Workload and Assessment

The assessment for this second-year module is as follows:
  • seminar contribution (10%)
  • commonplace book (10%)
  • 3.000 word essay (40%)
  • two-hour exam (40%)

Seminar contribution is assessed at the end of the year through a structured self-assessment. At the end of the year please complete this seminar contribution self-assessment form.

The marking descriptors for seminar contributions are here.

If you would like some interim feedback at the end of term 1, send me a self-assessment form in week 1 of term 2 and we can discuss it. This won't contribute to your actual mark but might be useful.

Part of your assessment will include a commonplace book. The thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the materials curated in the book will constitute 10% of the mark for the module.

The commonplace book replaces the 1500-word essay due in term 1. Instead of submitting an essay you should submit your commonplace book. (Because of the way tabula works, it's not possible to change the title of that assignment on tabula from '1500 word essay' to 'commonplace book'.)

You may wish to maintain and update your commonplace book during the remainder of the module, as you might find it a useful place to record your ideas and thoughts as the module progresses.

What is a Commonplace Book?

A commonplace book is a scrap-book of words and images. You will need to be able to upload your commonplace book to tabula, so it will need, ultimately, to be in an electronic form. You can create a digital scrapbook or blog. You can also use a physical notebook, and then scan or photograph it to convert it into a digital file. Either is fine.

Whatever format you choose, use your commonplace book to record questions, stimulating quotations, diagrams or drawings, newspaper clippings, photographs, and other material inspired by the module. Both in and outside of class, fill these pages with ideas that you find stimulating in relation to food. Add diagrams or drawings or doodles; paste photographs or postcards or newspaper clippings. The commonplace book can also be used to document the progress of the practical experiments assigned in class should you wish.

There are specific marking descriptors for the commonplace book, which you can find here.

I strongly encourage you to take a look at them.

In summary, you should use your commonplace book to:

  • draw connections between the module’s themes, and events in the news, on social media, drawn from your own life, inspired by other modules, etc.
  • convey your ongoing engagement with the module, rather than offering a static account written shortly before submission.
  • comment on your reactions and ideas, identifying particular areas of interest, and considering why you find these areas particularly interesting.
  • show your understanding of the ideas explored in the module.

Here is a good description of how to use a commonplace book, from the late 18th century:

"You will find it a good method to collect and write your thoughts upon any subject that occurs; for by repeatedly arranging and revising your expressions and opinions you may daily improve them, and learn to think and reason properly on every occasion. By this mean you may likewise provide yourselves with a fund of matter for future use which, without this assistance, the memory would not retain. It will be of great service to note down in your common-place book such particulars as you may judge worth remembering, with your own observations upon them. This will be a kind of an amusement which will exercise your thinking powers at the time, and, by recurring to it afterwards, it may afford you many useful hints."

The Boarding School, by a Lady of Massachusetts (Boston, 1798).

You can also, just for general interest, take a look at Lucia Dacome, ‘Noting the Mind: Commonplace Books and the Pursuit of the Self in the Eighteenth Century’, Journal of the History of Ideas 65/4 (2004). (You'll need to sign in to access this article.)

For full details of examination and assessment, please see

Some Areas You Might Explore in an Essay

These are some topics and general areas you might wish to explore.

These suggestions are IN ADDITION to the questions posed for each seminar, which you may also use as the basis for an essay.

Of course, you can also invent your own topic entirely.

Whatever you decide to explore, please arrange a meeting with me to talk through your ideas and to develop the structure of your essay once you have thought of some possible topics. You need to clear your essay title with me.

-- A history of baby food

--Use Barbara Wheaton's five-pronged approach to analyse a particular cookbook

--the history, politics or ethics of 'geographical indicators' such as Stilton, or Champagne

--the politics of the school dinner

--a 'commodity history' of a particular food such as codfish, or milk, or bananas

--what explains the current 'obesity epidemic'?

--Is the popularity of 'ethnic' foods indicative of positive attitudes towards immigration/multi-culturalism?

--can we use paelo-botany to analyse the early history of agriculture?

--food rationing

--food museums

--analyse the historical significance of a cookbook of your choice

--the history of institutional foods (hospitals, prisons, armed forces, orphanages . . . )

--Which formulation do you prefer: food sovereignty or food security?

--the place of food in political and cultural movements (Black Power, Indian nationalism, 1960s Counter-Culture . . . )

--food and war (sieges, feeding armies, civilian provisioning)

--historical data on height and weight as a tool for analysing how well-nourished a people were in the past

--has fast food conquered the world?

--analyse a television cooking programme, past or present

--food in literature


The exam is an opportunity to demonstrate what you learned over the course of the year. It consists of ten essay-style questions. You will answer two questions, which should not be on topics closely related to things you covered in detail in your 3,000-word essay. Good answers will engage directly with the question, and will display a good familiarity with the materials we covered in the module. They will include specific, concrete examples to illustrate the points being made. You are not expected to bring in new material that was not covered in the module, so please don't feel you need to conduct additional research in order to answer the exam questions.

An Idea: Consider the URSS!

If you are particularly taken with a topic and wish to explore it further, consider applying for to the Undergraduate Research Support Scheme (URSS).

The URSS provides funding and other support for you to undertake an extended research project over the summer vacation. It might fund you to travel to Mexico to research local restaurant culture, or to London to study 17th-century cookbooks in the Wellcome Library, or to Preston to interview your primary-school dinner lady . . .

Contact Hours

Student contact hours for this second-year option module are as follows:
  • Module duration: Twenty-two weeks
  • Lectures: Nineteen one-hour lectures
  • Seminars: Nineteen one-hour seminars
  • Revision: A one-hour revision lecture and a one-hour revision seminar
  • Tutorials: Four hours of presentation feedback, essay feedback, and long essay preparation
  • Total: Forty-four hours