By Mackie Black
At this year’s Renaissance Society of America’s Annual Conference, recipes found their way onto a range of panels and roundtables.
Starting off strong, EMROC’s own Margaret Simon (North Carolina State University) brought recipes to “The Early Modern Archive After Derrida II” roundtable with a focus on the 2021 Transcribathon manuscript, Lady Sedley’s Recipe Book from the Royal College of Physicians. Her paper focused on the gendered divide between the humanities study of archives and archives themselves, that transcription and retranscription calls into question the idea of a “final version,” the ambiguous identity of Lady Sedley, and how the digitization of manuscripts cannot solve mysteries like this one but can only bring them into view.
The next day saw another of EMROC’s own, Hillary M. Nunn (The University of Akron), bring late 17th Century American colonial recipes to the panel “Identity Abroad: The Public Lives of Women Away from Home.” Her paper focused on how recipes functioned to preserve Englishness in the American colonies with notice of Frances Culpeper’s recipe book and the preservation impulse characteristic of recipe books of this time and place. Her paper included a look at recipes for Dr. Stevens’s Water and its preservation properties brought over from England with Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife.
Later in the day, recipes featured in my own work presented on the “Feminist Digital Thinking II: Early Modern Methods and Practices” roundtable. I presented on The Receipt Book of Margaret Baker (Folger MS v.a.619) with its possible abortifacient recipes and how my work in finding this and similar recipes has revealed the need for reimagining the digital archive to better accommodate female voices. While not directly about recipes, Christopher Warren (Carnegie Mellon University) presented in the paired roundtable “Feminist Digital Thinking I: Early Modern Data and Archives” about his work on fragmented type. His paper used the logic of the Early Modern kitchen, particularly in the idea of mincing, to argue the conception of kitchen labor as a production of Big Data in its opposite.
Recipes also featured on the closing day in both the panel “Alchemy and Experimentation in Florence and London” and the roundtable “Early Modern Women and Their Books II.” Margaret Maurer (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) presented on Charles Butler’s The Feminine Monarchie (1609) beekeeping manual. She argued that Butler copied and revised several recipes from John Hester’s The Key of Philosophie (1596) in a way that shows an ongoing engagement with alchemical experience, observation, and experimentation. Both Danielle Clarke (University College Dublin) and Erin McCarthy (University of Galway) focused on the women who owned recipe books. Danielle Clarke’s paper thought through how non-print books put women in the literary circles of the period by looking at several manuscripts including Dorothy Parson’s Recipe Book. Erin McCarthy focused heavily on Folger MS E.a.1, questioning the term miscellany and what we do with books like this manuscript that don’t neatly fit into archival categories.
Whether it be through directly thinking with and about women or using arguably women’s logic to think through problems of the Early Modern scholar, the role of women through recipes in both the Early Modern period and in today’s libraries and archives was perhaps one of the most common threads running through many of these papers. Recipes at RSA acted as an entrance to and a framework for thinking about women in the Early Modern period and in today’s scholarship.
Other presenters may have discussed recipes on panels I was unable to attend. If this applies to your presentation or you know of others, please get in touch with EMROC so we can catch up on this work as well!