Humanities in Class: Webinar Series

Environmental History: Eating the City

Lead Scholar: Matthew Morse Booker (Vice President for Scholarly Programs, National Humanities Center; Fellow, 2016–17)

January 23, 2018

19th century Americans generally ate locally. While luxuries like coffee, tea, and sugar connected them to the global economy, refrigeration, transportation, and income forced most people to eat seasonal and regional foods. Farmers recycled human and animal waste. The rise of the industrial city, with its immigrant populations, networked economies, and steam-powered workplaces, profoundly challenged that older system. Unprecedented concentrations of people–New York had as many as 500 persons per square mile–overwhelmed local food producers, and extraordinary volumes of human waste led to disease epidemics. Most people encountered these consequences of modern life through their food and drink, both of which became the focus of consumer fear and governmental regulation. This webinar will use a forgotten staple, oysters, to explore the risks of industrialization and the consequences of environmental protections.

Subjects: History; Environment and Nature; Agriculture; Food; Urban History; Environmental History