History of American Food


  • HIST 413 Summer 2019
  • MTWTh 9:20 - 11:50 @ 327 DSH
  • 3 Credit Hours
  • Fred Gibbs (fwgibbs@unm.edu) @ 1077 Mesa Vista Hall
  • Student Hours: By appointment (there is plenty of time before/in/after class)

Course Description

When you think of Mexican food, or Italian, or Chinese, a range of dishes and ingredients immediately spring to mind. But what about American food? Is there such a thing? How much does the history of American Food tell a very different story of US History than we typically hear? How are ideas of nationalism reflected in our foodways? What constitutes a “national” cuisine? Does this concept even make sense anymore?

The goal of this course is to see how much fun we can have exploring different perspectives on the concept of national cuisine and American food. Never shall we care about memorizing and regurgitating supposedly important historical “facts”.

Each class meeting is 2.5 hours, which is long. So we’ll break it up into various activities (with breaks), including mini-lectures, small and large group discussion of common readings (the books), and primary source analyses (mixes of newspapers, ads, menus, literature, trade journals), as well as student presentations on select short readings (of your choice) that dive deeper into topics touched on in the books.

Some questions we’ll tackle: What have Americans eaten over time? Why? How much have immigration and regionalization mattered? How have food production, technology, and marketing practices changed eating habits? How have dietary and nutritional advice altered perceptions of food and cuisine over the 20th century? How have recent global industrial conglomerates shaped the idea of what constitutes American food? What can the future of American food learn from its past?

Student Learning Objectives

  • Think critically about how various people at various times have discussed what to eat and why
  • Identify and appreciate the various drivers of change with respect to food production and consumption in America
  • Understand how attitudes toward food are influenced by shifting cultural, social, religious, scientific, and political values
  • Understand how different historians construct very different histories of American food and its significance

Work Requirements and Grading

It’s summer

As an upper level history course compressed into a month, it’s meant to be a challenge. But I do recognize that it’s summer, and that we’re still recovering from last semester/year and we have busy lives outside of class. There isn’t much to do most days except do the preparatory reading, reflect on it, write a brief response (sometimes), come to class, and participate in the conversations and activities. For the major assignments (see below), we’ll practice doing them together before you do them on your own.

Given the compressed nature of the class, the main work/fun on which you will be evaluated is general engagement in our daily activities and conversation.

Required (due dates on the schedule page)

  • Thorough preparedness and engaged participation in class meetings (20 points)
  • Reading/discussion quizzes (20 points)
  • Reading responses (18 points) instructions and schedule
  • Cookbook analysis (10 points) instructions
  • Food writing analysis presentation (10 points) instructions
  • Food writing analysis essay (10 points) instructions
  • Digital Food History analysis (12 points) instructions

Extra Credit (all due on the Saturday after the last day of class: June 29)


  • Everyone gets 2 unexcused absences for free. After that, there is a 10 point penalty for each absence. Significant illness, family emergencies, and similar unexpected life events are always excused absences. Car trouble, tiredness, hangovers, etc. are not excused absences. If you miss 5 classes for any reason (including excused absences) you will be dropped from the course.

Grading Scale

Points Grade
94+ A
90-94 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
67-69 D+
60-66 D
59- F

Please Ask for Help

I heartily encouraged you to speak with me at any time about how I think you’re doing in the class and how it can be improved (if at all). If life gets overwhelming during the course, it can be tempting to drift away from an intensive elective course like this. PLEASE DON’T! Rather than disappear, please come talk with me about how we can accommodate your circumstances.

You are always welcome and encouraged to ask for brief feedback about assignments you are working on. This is very useful for making sure you’re on the right track or learning about any major flaws or omissions in your work-in-progress. Send me a draft or bring it to class. A 5-minute consultation can make your life MUCH easier!

UNM Resources

CAPS Tutoring Services is a free-of-charge educational assistance program available to UNM students enrolled in classes. Online services include the Online Writing Lab, Chatting with or asking a question of a Tutor.

Students with Disabilities

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodations of their disabilities. If you have a disability requiring accommodation, please contact me immediately to make arrangements as well as Accessibility Services Office in 2021 Mesa Vista Hall at 277-3506 or http://as2.unm.edu/index.html. Information about your disability is confidential.

Academic Misconduct

You should be familiar with UNM’s Policy on Academic Dishonesty and the Student Code of Conduct which outline academic misconduct defined as plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, or facilitating any such act.