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Announcing a New Food History Fellowship at the University of North Texas

The number of food-focused graduate programs just increased by one. The University of North Texas recently announced a new MA fellowship in food history, funded by the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.

The fellowship affords a $5,000 annual stipend, renewable for a second year based on satisfactory academic performance. Awardees are also eligible to apply for a teaching assistantship in the Department of History, which provides an additional stipend and partial tuition waiver. Beyond financial support, the Fellow will have the opportunity to participate in career-building activities such as promoting UNT’s History Garden, working as an editorial assistant, gaining teaching experience in food history classrooms, and presenting their research in public forums.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jennifer Jensen Wallach and Michael Wise, both Associate Professors of History at UNT, to learn more about this new program.

I was excited to learn that UNT boasts eight faculty specialized in food history! Students will have the opportunity to study with both of you, as well as with Professors Katy Imy, Sandra C. Mendiola García, Rachel Louise Moran, Marilyn Morris, Clark A. Pomerleau, and Nancy L. Stockdale. What is the climate overall at UNT for food studies and food history research, teaching and learning, and community-engaged work?

We are fortunate to have a wide range of food studies faculty working across the entire university. Until recently, our food studies community was relatively fragmented, located, for instance, within our strong College of Merchandising, Hospitality, and Tourism; within our internationally-recognized program in environmental philosophy; our major centers in plant research and other biological sciences; and of course, within our Department of History.

About five years ago we began the process of organizing this interdisciplinary expertise in food studies in some more direct ways. Funding from the UNT Provost’s Office, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and the Department of History have enabled us to host a steady stream of food studies lectures, an international conference, and visits from outside experts who have advised us on how to build our program in food studies. Currently, we have assembled a working group of thirty faculty who represent four different colleges and ten different departments. Our exciting collaborations involve defining our vision for food studies at UNT and planning what kind of new programs we can build to benefit both our students and our community.

I’ve had a few food history colleagues critique food studies for how it perhaps focuses more on present and future food issues than considering the past. How do you view the relationship between food history and food studies, especially when it comes to training graduate students?

One of the unique aspects of our food studies working group is that we have people actively engaged in plant science; people training students to work in the hospitality industry; kinesiologists studying the impact of food on the body; and humanities scholars training students to think critically about all of these undertakings. As historians, one of the contributions we can make to these discussions is to provide the tools to move beyond the nostalgia that often accompanies well-intended, but sometimes misdirected critiques of our present and future food systems.

For instance, the often-cited suggestion that we look to the pots and plates of our collective great-great-grandmothers for guidance on how to solve our present food problems distorts our long historical relationships with industrial foods, and ignores the many inequalities of race, gender, and class that structured these mythologically superior past food practices. Such romantic narratives about food in the past are not just inaccurate, but in certain cases they have also served more insidious functions of justifying white supremacy, settler colonialism, patriarchy, and so on.

So, the scholars that work in our department are trying to disentangle how both past food practices and present ideas about food have helped create and recreate structures of power and inequality. We are interested in studying not only what people ate in the past, but also how distorted historical narratives about idyllic food pasts are often put to work in the present to sustain certain power structures.

Graduate students in history at UNT now have the option of organizing their studies thematically around a new concentration called “Body, Place, Identity” that trains students to analyze the historical work of identity construction in relation to histories of bodily and spatial practices—such as cooking and eating—that are significant building blocks of culture, yet ones that remain understudied by historians. The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts Fellowship in Food History is a direct outgrowth of this new initiative of our graduate program.

Students can now choose from a growing number of excellent, graduate level food studies programs, but securing funding and fellowships can be a challenge, especially at the master’s level. How did UNT come to develop this fellowship with the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts? And will this be an ongoing fellowship opportunity at UNT beyond this first recipient(s)?

Like many other graduate programs in the humanities, we are often forced to accomplish a lot with a little. Our Department of History already offers funding for many of our students through teaching assistantships and instructorships. The purpose of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts Fellowship in Food History is to offer additional support for an exceptional student who can use these funds to alleviate some of the financial pressure that often accompanies graduate school. In the future, we hope to secure additional funding from other sources to continue supporting food history graduate students at a high level.

Jennifer (learn more about her in this ASFS Member Spotlight interview) first reached out to the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts several years ago to help fund the Food and Foodways book series that she founded at the University of Arkansas Press.

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A selection of books in the Food and Foodways series from University of Arkansas Press, co-edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and Michael Wise.

Since then, this series, which we now co-edit, and which is dedicated to telling lesser-known food stories, has published nine titles, two of which have won recent ASFS book awards. Because our work at UNT continues this same mission, we approached the foundation again to see if they would be interested in supporting our new graduate field in food history. We were thrilled and delighted when they agreed to partner with us.

For applicants who might apply for this fellowship from outside of the region, how would you describe Denton and Dallas-Fort Worth as a place to live, study, work, and, of course, eat?

The University of North Texas is one of Texas’s major public research universities, enrolling more than 38,000 students. We are broadly known as a premier school for music and the arts, and our university has grown alongside the Dallas-Fort Worth region (or “the Metroplex” as North Texans call it) for more than 125 years, serving the diverse public needs of the region’s 7 million inhabitants for higher education and community engagement. Denton is also home to Texas Woman’s University, another public institution with 15,000 students (and—it bears mentioning here—a wonderful library collection of thousands of historic cookbooks).

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The Texas Woman’s University Cookbook Collection includes more than 25,000 cookbooks, 10,000 pamphlets of promotional recipe leaflets, and 1,800 international menus.

With all these students, faculty, and university administrators, Denton is a vibrant college town. It boasts an affordable cost of living, and its civic character comes from its many independent retailers, coffee shops, and an ever-increasing number of restaurants, many of which are situated on or around our historic town square. We were particularly excited when Spiral Diner, a vegan institution based in Fort Worth, opened their third location here in “little d.”

In short, Denton is a place that surprises most people with its unexpected charms. Visitors often remark that it reminds them of what Austin was like in the 1960s—diverse, unpretentious, and friendly. Although we’re suspicious of such kinds of mythical, historical comparisons, we’d agree that Denton is different from what many people imagine when they think about Texas. It’s a fun place to live and a interesting place to work as a student and scholar.

How to Apply

  • Interested candidates must first apply for admission to UNT’s Toulouse Graduate School and then to the UNT Department of History’s MA program.
  • After completing these applications, candidates should also submit a letter of application describing their qualifications and research interests in food history.
  • This letter should be submitted alongside a 2018-2019 “Application for Departmental Scholarships” (being sure to check the box for this fellowship) available here.

The deadline for all applications is January 15, 2019.

For more information, please contact Jennifer Jensen Wallach (Jennifer.Wallach [at] unt.edu) or Michael D. Wise (Michael.Wise [at] unt.edu).

Top Image: Okra growing in the UNT History Garden. Photo credit: Emily Olkkola

 

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