Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

GSWS 259 Food Matters: Gender, Religion, Ethnicity, and Consumerism (Bakhmetyeva)

Primary Sources vs Secondary Sources

Social groups develop and live according to their own notions of what is either an “adequate food” or a “good taste” (qtd in Becuţ & Puerto 2017 2).

Becuţ, Anda Georgiana, and Kàtia Lurbe i Puerto. "Introduction. Food history and identity: Food and eating practices as elements of cultural heritage, identity and social creativity." International Review of Social Research 7, no. 1 (2017): 1-4.

Hadley, Etha. 1873. Improvement in Egg-beaters. US Patent US138647A, filed February 8, 1873, and issued May 6, 1873.

Primary sources are documents or physical objects created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Examples include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Autobiographies, memoirs, personal journals and diaries, letters, emails, blogs, twitter feeds and other forms of social media, speeches, manuscripts, interviews, news, film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them.  Examples include: Textbooks, journal articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, and encyclopedias.

Cookbooks as primary sources

  • The oldest cookbooks are usually meant for elite readers, since literacy was rare.
  • The age of the recipe can greatly differ from the age of the publication
  • Cookbooks are prescriptive literature, reflecting the author's culinary aspirations - could vary greatly from actual culinary practice of the time.  
  • Time & place matter for meaning (e.g. sugar as an ingredient in the 14th century vs the 19th century)
  • Versions or transcriptions may be significantly different (and telling!)
  • Notes and marginalia can provide information about audience 
  • Cookbooks can tell us about changing food preferences and dietary patterns, when and how meals were served, table arrangement, manners, daily routines and the like. From those, we can draw conclusions about gender roles, culture, race, ethnicity, class, politics, religion and world view.

Object Analysis

Interrogating a Primary Source:

Who created the item and what is their historical significance? Was it a professional chef or a home cook? What can be gleaned about their social status?
Who was the intended audience and what inferences can be drawn about them?
Where was it created and when?
Where does the source fit into the chronology of the period being studied?
What key names, dates and events can be gleaned from the item? 
What attitude towards the subject matter/event does the creator of the item seem to impart? (e.g. What tone is set? Are there interesting word choices and what might the author's choice in their use mean? Why was it created and what purpose did it originally serve? What biases may inherently or intentionally exist in it?).
What questions do you have that requires further research?

Object Sets Fall 2020

Exercise 1: (pairs) Each of you take about 5 minutes to examine one of the items, interrogating it with some of the questions for interrogating a primary source in the “Object Analysis" Box. Record your answers at  Then take 5 minutes to share/compare what you find with your partner.  

Exercise 2: (groups of 4 or 5) Consult with each person in the group to examine all of your items as a set to answer the guiding questions below.  Record your answers at
Guiding Questions:

  • What questions do I have from examining these materials as a set?  What are the similarities? How do they differ? What greater inferences can be drawn about the about historical context from the set?
  • What questions or further research might you have? (e.g. Are there thoughts or ideas that could be defined or explained? Is there specialized language or jargon? Are there references to places, events, or people, culture, etc?).
  • What other primary sources might I look for to help round out the story behind the sources you currently have?
  • What ideological theories or philosophies can be applied to the item?
  • How might I compare these sources to other readings and assignments in this course?
Pairing 1:

Pairing 2:

Pairing 3:
  • Keoleian, Ardashes H. 1913. The Oriental Cook Book; Wholesome, Dainty and Economical Dishes of the Orient, Especially Adapted to American Tastes and Methods of Preparation.

  • Jacob, J., Ashkenazi, M., & Ashkenazi, M. (2014). The world cookbook: The greatest recipes from around the globe (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood.

Pairing 4:

Pairing 5:

Pairing 6:

Pairing 7: