Food and Major Exhibitions in the 19th and 20th Centuries

RHN 10/2013 | Call

Organiser: International Commission for Research into European Food History (ICREFH)

16-20 September 2013, Brussels

Deadline: 30 March 2013

This is the call for papers for the 2013 ICREFH-symposium, to be organized in Brussels, September 16 to 20, 2013. The central theme is the result of the decision to consider Europe's food history within the international context. This theme fits perfectly well in ICREFH's aims and practices, i.e. to combine various disciplines and approaches to study the history of food in Europe since c.1800. The focus will be on major exhibitions and, particularly, world fairs. These are events that appeal to millions of people (visitors, writers, photographers, readers, and dreamers), produce an ephemeral but yet tangible view of modernity (displaying new goods and ideas), involve manufacturers, scientists, municipalities, governments, journalists, and consumers, are full of ideologies, shape memories and are places of international communication. Starting in 1851 (London), world fairs have been organized very regularly, right up to the present. Seven countries in Europe have hosted a world fair and most European countries have participated in one. Moreover, international exhibitions (with a different status from world exhibitions and dealing with specific themes like, e.g., electricity, horticulture, arts & crafts, or hygiene) were organized across Europe since the late 18th century. Food played a crucial role in these events: visitors ate and drank, officials were offered banquets, manufacturers displayed their products, and scientists met to discuss hygiene or up-to-date food preparing. In many cases, food consumption allowed to achieve a financial break-even point. Moreover, some nations utilized food and drink to express (urban, regional or national) identity, whether at home or abroad. The latter offers the perfect tool to investigate construction of national or corporate sentiments. In short, international exhibitions allow the investigation of economic, social, cultural, and political issues of food, with confrontations and exchanges within Europe and between Europe and other continents, which touches upon exoticism, prejudices, innovation, entertainment, likes and dislikes. In virtually all countries of the world, abundant source material is available (written sources like newspapers, brochures, and official reports; pictures like photos and movies; buildings; or artefacts like furniture).

Four subthemes are suggested, but the Organizing Committee gladly welcomes proposals in other related areas:

  • Signs of Americanization: European countries were eager to display American-like products and foodways at European world exhibitions. They gladly welcomed new types of eateries (e.g., the self-service restaurant), food automats, or street vendors (hot-dogs, e.g.); they displayed US products (Coca-Cola, Heinz, ...) in plants with modern production processes; they loved modernist advertisements. Were such signs of Americanization common in Europe? Since when? How did Europeans manufacturers and consumers react? Did they appreciate it, and eagerly visit US pavilions? How did European countries deal with this 'Americanism' at US-world fairs? Did they use US world fairs to emphasize 'Europeanism'?
  • Colonial Presence: 'colonial villages' with food and drinks were organized since the early days. How were these represented, when did colonial food, restaurants and stalls appear (and disappear), and what precisely was served? To what extent were colonial goods present in countries without colonies? How did food manufacturers use the exotic (and what was considered exotic)? Did visitors react enthusiastically or, on the contrary, with unease? Did the colonial food displayed and served at world fairs leave traces in European magazines, cookery writings and advertisements?
  • People Abroad: world fairs attracted hundred thousands of travellers, whether tourists, businessmen, officials, or employees. These people needed to sleep and eat: where and how did they do this? Did restaurants and hotels offer local specials, and which ones? Did the hospitality businesses invent national/regional cuisines? Were foreign cooks and waiters enlisted? Who were the staff of 'ethnic' restaurants and bars? Which foreign cuisines appeared at world exhibitions, when, what was prepared, and at what price?
  • Signs of Social Progress: world exhibitions were huge leisure events, but at every occasion (social) science was present. Scientific meetings were organized about domestic science (education), hygiene (kitchen comfort), the optimal diet, or water supply, thus disseminating new insights in foodways. Who participated in these meetings? Where did these people obtain their knowledge? And which knowledge (e.g., about calories, vitamins or other new findings) was presented?

The Organizing Committee welcomes proposals; 16 papers will be presented, so selection will be quite strict.

Proposals for papers (title + abstract) should be sent before 30 March 2013 to Peter Scholliers (using this document).