History 493:  Seminar - Food in America

Professor Jonathan Rees

Colorado State University - Pueblo

Fall 2010, Th 2-4:50PM

Office: Psych 118

Office Phone: 549-2541

Office Hours:  MWF 2-3PM, T 4:30-5:30PM, Th 1-2PM.

E-Mail: Jonathan [dot] Rees [at] colostate-pueblo [dot] edu

"There are thousands of foods on the planet, and explaining why we eat the relatively small selection we do requires some words.  We need to explain that the parsley on the plate is for decoration, that pasta is not a 'breakfast food,' why we eat wings but not eyes, cows but not dogs."

- Jonathan Safran Foer.

This course examines the history of  food in the United States across the whole of American history as a vehicle for teaching students research skills.  Its overriding goal is to have students produce an approximately twenty page work of original research on some aspect of the history of food in America that incorporates both primary and secondary sources.  To do that well, it is also necessary for students to learn about culinary history in general. 

This syllabus will evolve over the course of the semester, so you may wish to bookmark this page in order to come back for new links and updates.

The taping of class lectures/discussions or the taking of notes on a laptop computer is not permitted unless you have my explicit permission.  Please turn off your cell phones before class begins. 

In order to facilitate communication between you and I, having an e-mail is a requirement of this course.  I will be collecting e-mails from you on the first day of the course.  You will want to give me an address that you check fairly frequently because I will use it if I need to get a hold of you for course-related business.  All correspondence with me should go through the university e-mail listed above.  All assignments (including draft papers, but excluding final papers) should be sent to reesassignments@gmail.com.  All final papers should be handed to me in paper format in class on the day they are due.

This University abides by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which stipulates that no student shall be denied the benefits of an education "solely by reason of a handicap."  If you have a documented disability that may impact your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations, please see the Disability Resource Coordinator as soon as possible to arrange accommodations.  In order to receive accommodations, you must be registered with and provide documentation of your disability to:  the Disability Resource Office, which is located in the Psychology Building, Suite 232.

Required Reading

Horowitz, Roger.  Putting Meat on the American Table.

Levenstein, Harvey.  Revolution at the Table.

O'Neill, Molly, ed.  American Food Writing.  [AFW]

Remnick, David., ed.  Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink.  [SI]

Smith, Andrew F.  Eating History: 30 Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine.


Grading and Attendance Policies

It is assumed that students will make every effort to attend each class period, arrive on time and stay for the entire class. An attendance sheet will be passed around at the beginning of each class. If you arrive late to class, make sure your name is on the attendance sheet before you leave. Otherwise, you will be counted as absent. You will be permitted two unexcused absences during the course of the semester (to account for the random mishaps, mistakes and burdens of everyday life).  Miss three classes FOR ANY REASON and you will be dropped from the course If I get the impression that people are disappearing early I will pass the attendance sheet around more than once.  If you aren't there to check your name, you will be marked absent for that week. 

I reserve the right to call on you if you do not speak regularly.  This is not an idle threat. If I get the impression that the majority of you are not keeping up on your reading I will quiz you and replace other grades with those grades.  That is not an idle threat.


Your primary task in this class is to produce an approximately 25-30 page, double-spaced paper on a subject related to the history of food in America.  [Endnotes and bibliography, which are of course required, do not count towards the 25-page minimum.]  Your research should come from a combination of primary and secondary sources. Shoot for a 50/50 ratio, and if anything provide more primary than secondary sources.  This is not intended to be the same kind of library-centered reports that you've done since middle school.  It must include primary source research.

The paper should attempt to connect food history to larger social, cultural or economic trends in American history.  How food has changed purely for food's sake defeats the notion that the history of food in America has anything to say about food in general.  While comparisons or ramifications that deal with the present are welcome, try to restrict them to the last page of the paper.  This is, after all, a history course.

The topic is your choice.  However, it should be specific enough so that you can cover your subject in some depth.  For example, a history of dessert in America is too broad.  However, a history of ice cream  consumption is probably a good choice.  Attempt to write a history of vanilla ice cream consumption in America and you will probably have trouble finding sources. 

You are required to use the research database Zotero in the course of this effort so that I can track both the sources that you acquire, and your progress in excerpting material.  I will examine your database twice over the course of the semester.  The first time in order to see how many sources you've acquired.  The second time will be to see how many notes you have from those sources. 

By September 16th, you must complete the first step in the paper composition process.  You must choose a topic.  Choosing a topic should not be taken lightly because even at this early stage it may make or break your efforts.  Perhaps the best advice I can give you is this:  Make sure you have a substantial number of sources lined up BEFORE you select a topic.  Should you begin with a topic and end up with few sources on it, you will have a very difficult time completing this course.  Therefore, it is extremely important that you begin reading your sources as as early as possible to help you better focus your research.

By September 23rd, you must complete a research prospectus for your project.  E-mail a copy to me at reesassignents@gmail.com and bring a paper copy to class.  A successful  research prospectus will contain the following elements in this order:

  • A question that your research will seek to answer.  Imagine that this assignment was not open-ended and write the the question that the professor might ask.  This is a way to make sure that there is value to your work.  By asking a good question, you can connect your subject to broader historical trends and attract readers.  While you are not required to keep the same question throughout the research process, if you plan on changing questions please drop me an e-mail with the old one, the new one and an explanation why.

  • A list of primary and secondary sources that you think you might use.  As it is good strategy to review far more sources than you will need for your final paper, I want to see at least ten sources at this stage.  This list will change by the end of the writing process. 

  • A brief outline of the topics you might cover over the course of your paper with an explanation of why discussing this topic will help you answer the question that you have set out above.  This list too will undoubtedly change by the end of the writing process.

On October 14th, you will provide a second draft of your prospectus.  E-mail a copy to me at reesassignments@gmail.com and bring a paper copy to class.  It should include all the elements from the first draft, along with:

  • A paragraph explaining why you framed your question the way you did.

  • A potential thesis.

  • Twenty, rather than just ten, potential sources.

  • At least a sentence (if not more) under each potential topic for paragraphs in the body of your paper explaining the relationship between that subject and your thesis.

Also on October 14th and November 4th, I will be examining your research databases in order to assure that you are making sufficient progress.

By October 28th, you must e-mail me a tentative outline of your paper.  It doesn't have to be down to the paragraph level, but should have at least ten components to it and (most importantly), they should be in the order that you plan to write them.

By November 4th, you must e-mail me another draft of your outline which we will discuss in class.

By November 11th, you must complete a draft of the research paper.  It must be a minimum of ten pages long, double-spaced.  [However, I strongly encourage you to make it the whole twenty.  The more critiquing I can do in advance, the better your final paper is likely to be.]  Complete and accurate footnotes and (a non-annotated) bibliography are REQUIRED (otherwise I will have no way to judge the quality of your research).  You will e-mail me a copy as attachment and bring three paper copies to class.

Your final paper is due December 9th.  It must be typewritten and include footnotes in the Turabian format and an annotated bibliography which has a brief paragraph that describes how you used each source in your research.  [For primary sources, you can use a single paragraph for each type of source.  For secondary sources I want one paragraph per book.]  Failure to adequately document your sources will result in me failing to accept the paper.  Failure to keep up with the preliminary stages of this assignment may result in my failing you on this assignment before the final product is even done.

For a refresher on the guidelines for the Turabian format, click here.

For more advice on the research paper process, click here, here, here and then here.

Other Assignments and Grading

You will answer questions in a timely manner about the readings for the week.  The questions for each week will appear at least a week before they're due (if not earlier).  You will send your answers to reesassignments@gmail.com before class time.  Grading will be pass/fail and you'll only hear from me if you fail).  There are eleven weeks worth of questions, ten will count.  That means you can miss one with no effect upon your grade.

By November 4th, you will complete a 4-6 page, double-spaced paper about a long (at least five lines) footnote which references sources that are accessible to you.  [You can also examine multiple footnotes from the same paragraph if that adds up to five lines.]  You may select the footnote from one of the secondary sources that you have acquired for your research or from the Levenstein, Horowitz or Smith books. 

Begin the paper by reproducing the text that the footnote refers to and the text of the footnote in full.  [That means the part in the text and the part that's at the bottom or the end of the chapter.]  Then excerpt the text that the footnote refers to.  This will make a total of three introductory paragraphs:  two pieces of text and one footnote.  The best footnotes to use for this assignments will have narrative text in them as these footnotes offer more of the author's interpretation of the source for you to critique.  We will discuss your quote selection on x,x,x.

Approach this paper like you're peeling an onion.  Begin with the context in which the quoting passage appears.  Then explain the interpretation in the secondary source where you got the passage.  Then examine how that compares with the sources it cites.  Look for discrepancies and comment on their legitimacy.  Spend your time on the mechanics of quoting, not the merits of the argument itself.  Illustrates how one source builds on the other, taking the argument in directions that the original author might not have been able to anticipate.  In short, this should be a paper about the research process, not the history of food.

You must be able to find and analyze ALL the original sources cited in the original footnote paragraph or you can't examine it.  The point of this assignment is to assess the accuracy of the author's interpretation of the sources.  Do the sources support the point made?  Are cited passages taken in or out of context?  Is the secondary material germane to the issue at hand?  A draft is not required for this paper, but I'll try to read what you have when you have it if you e-mail it to me.

Your final grade will be determined by this formula:

  • 30% Readings Questions.  Each "A" is worth 3%.

  • 20% Footnote Paper.

  • 50% Research Paper on some aspect of food history (including the completion of all preliminary steps in a timely fashion).*

*A passing grade on the research paper is required to pass the course.

Grading will be done on an A-F scale with pluses and minuses with the exception of the exception of the final grade C- which has been banned across the University. Your final grades will be recorded the same way. I will do my best to explain the criteria by which each assignment is graded before you undertake them.

Any form of academic dishonesty will result in a failing grade for the entire course. This includes plagiarism, the taking of words and/or ideas of another and passing them off as your own. If another person's work is quoted directly in a formal paper, this must be indicated with quotation marks and a citation. Paraphrased or borrowed ideas must be identified in the footnotes of the text. If you do not understand this definition of plagiarism, it is your responsibility to have me discuss this topic with you further.

This University abides by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which stipulates that no student shall be denied the benefits of an education "solely by reason of a handicap."  If you have a documented disability that may impact your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations, please see the Disability Resource Coordinator as soon as possible to arrange accommodations.  In order to receive accommodations, you must be registered with and provide documentation of your disability to:  the Disability Resource Office, which is located in the Psychology Building, Suite 232.

Course Schedule and Reading Assignments

August 26th:

Topics:    Syllabus Review; Introduction to Food History; Introduction to Zotero.

September 2nd:

Topics:   Resources for Research (Library); Brainstorm Topics.


Questions, Week #1

September 9th:

Topics:     Reading Discussion - Breakfast.  Hand out, Lepore, "How to Write a Paper for This Class."


  • Smith, "The Kelloggs' Corn Flakes," 141-52.

  • Hunter, "Pancakes," AFW, p. 335.

  • Trillin, "The Magic Bagel," SI, p. 297.

Questions, Week #2.

September 16th:


Composing a Prospectus;  Reading Discussion - Levenstein.

Reading :

  • Levenstein, Revolution at the Table.

Levenstein questions.


Topic due via e-mail before class.

September 23rd:


Presentations on First Draft Prospectuses; Richardson's Rules of Order (research paper posts only); Reading Discussion - Restaurants.


  •  Mitchell, "All You Can Hold for Five Bucks," SI, p. 3.

  • Bourdain, "Don't Eat Before Reading This," SI, p. 83.

  • Smith, "Delmonico's," pp. 19-26 and "McDonald's Drive-In," 219-28.


E-Mail a first draft of your prospectus to me in advance and bring a paper copy to class.

Questions, Week #4.

September 30th:

Class Cancelled

October 7th:


Introduction to the Footnote Paper; Turabian Review; Reading Discussion - Seafood.


Questions, Week #6

October 14th:


Second Draft Prospectus Reports; Reading Discussion - Meat, Part 1; Research Check #1.


  • Fisher, "The Trouble With Tripe," SI, p. 109.

  • Pollan, "Power Steer."

  • Smith, "Upton Sinclair's The Jungle," pp. 155-63.


E-Mail me Second Draft Prospectus and bring a paper copy to class.

Questions, Week #7

October 21st:


Reading Discussion - Meat, Part 2 (Horowitz); More time with the Research Librarian (Computer Room).


  • Horowitz, Putting Meat on the American Table.

Horowitz Questions.

October 28th:


Outline Discussion (Bring copies for the whole class); Reading Discussion - Ethnic Food.


  • Cather, from My Antonia, AFW, p. 165.

  • Edwords, "Around Little Italy," AFW, p. 157.

  • Smith, "A Multiethnic Smorgasbord," pp. 45-55.


Outline of Paper due in class (bring enough for one copy for the whole class).

Questions, Week #9

November 4th:


Preliminary Research Presentations (w/ more thesis and outline discussion); Reading Discussion - Cooking; Research Check #2.


  • Shapiro, "Do Women Like to Cook?," AFW, p. 597.

  • Fussell, "My Kitchen Wars," AFW, p. 642.

  • Smith, "Julia Child, the French Chef," pp. 231-42.


Paper copy of Footnote Paper due in class.

Questions, Week #10

November 11th:


Schedule Individual Meetings on Drafts; Draft Paper Review; Reading Discussion - Side Dishes.


  • Prud'Homme, "Slave," SI, p. 428.

  • Gladwell, "Brain Candy," [.pdf].

  • Smith, "Fair Food," pp. 95-102 and "The Cracker Jack Snack," pp. 123-30.


Draft Papers due at start of class (ten page minimum).  E-mail one copy to me and bring three paper copies.

Questions, Week #11

November 18th:


"Miracles From Agriculture," "Alice Waters on 60 Minutes;" "The Future of Food (edit)," Reading Discussion - Food Today.  Introduction to job placement services.


  • Waters, "The Farm-Restaurant Connection," AFW, p. 559.

  • Schlosser, from Fast Food Nation, AFW, p. 683.

  • Pollan. "My Organic Industrial Meal," AFW, p. 717.

Questions, Week #12

December 2nd:


Film, "Food Inc.," and film discussion.

December 9th:  Research Paper Due at 5PM at a potluck in my back yard (details forthcoming).  Don't spoil dinner by even thinking about asking for an extension.


Jonathan Rees
Professor of History
Colorado State University - Pueblo
2200 Bonforte Boulevard
Pueblo, CO 81001
(719) 549-2541

E-Mail: Jonathan [dot] Rees [at] colostate-pueblo [dot] edu

This page viewed Counter times.