W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst Will Host Event to Bring Attention to Cook Book Archive

AMHERST, Mass. - An event focusing on the cultural significance of food and cooking, titled "What’s For Dinner at Your House?," will take place in the main floor meeting area of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts beginning at 3:30 p.m. March 11. The event is free and open to the public.

Members of the University’s library staff will prepare foods from recipes in regional cookbooks currently in the library’s collection. Also, UMass professor Nina Scott, Spanish and Portuguese languages and literature, will speak on the uses of cookbooks in academic research, and associate professor Arlene Voski Avakian, women’s studies, will speak on the cultural significance of food.

While the event will focus on the uses of regional community cookbooks in studying the social history of western Massachusetts, it is also geared toward bringing public attention to the already significant collection of regional cookbooks in the library’s archives and to adding to the collection, according to Linda Seidman, head of special collections and archives.

Seidman says: "We hope by making people aware of our efforts, we can encourage them to contribute cookbooks to the library that have been created by area churches, school groups, clubs, or even families."

Seidman explains that the cookbooks in the library’s archives serve as an invaluable way to study the region’s social history. "These cookbooks don’t just show us what individuals ate, but how they approached the process of cooking and its role in personal and family life," Seidman says. "They can be read on a number of levels – as reflections of the experiences of immigrant and ethnic groups, and as documents giving voice to the experiences of women."

Avakian is the editor of "Through the Kitchen Window: Women Explore the Intimate Meaning of Food and Cooking" (Beacon Press, 1997). Scott wrote a chapter on making scholarly use of cookbooks in the book "Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories" (University of Massachusetts Press, 1997). Scott also is advising two graduate students who are using cookbooks in their dissertation research.