HIST 410: Readings and Assignments

Click on the week’s title to see reading and assignment details for that week, including a synopsis of assignments due for that week. I have also identified for each week the SLOs we’ll be focusing on, as outlined on the syllabus home page.

Week 1: Introductions, SLOs, Key Concepts

This week we’re just getting up to speed and reading two VERY different perspectives on how we can think about the links between nutrition and health generally. You have a few short introductory assignments to complete before Wednesday (ideally on Monday), and we jump into our more or less regular routine starting on Wednesday. (SLO focus: 1)

Week 2: The Long History of Dietary Advice

This week we cover medical and dietary thinking from ancient Greece and Rome through about 1700. Some of the medical thinking seems a bit bizarre to our modern sensibilities, but in terms of dietary advice, there is a remarkable consistency over the last 2000 years. So it’s worth looking at the foundational thinking that has directly influenced modern nutrition, even if if certain aspects have been dramatically altered by increasingly sophisticated biochemical research. (SLO focus: 2,4,5)

Week 3: Dietary Expertise in the Enlightenment

Our 2-part reading for this week continues and focuses our previous attention to medical expertise and moral authority. It’s very clearly written, but quite dense, so it’s spread across two days so we can unpack it. The theme for the week is how physicians beginning the 1700s started promoting dietary advice and their expertise in different ways than they did previously (see Week 2). We also see the early ties between dietary advice, moral authority, a common sense, a group we’ll come back to repeatedly over the semester. (SLO focus: 1)

Week 4: Natural and Moral Diets of the 1800s

The dietary advice we saw directly primarily toward the upper classes in the previous week moves into the emerging middle class in the early 19th century. In particular, physicians and moral reformers see diets changing as a result of industrialization and urbanization as a distinct societal ill. We look at how moral and dietary advice become even more tightly coupled throughout the 1800s. Later in the course, we’ll see how that link has persisted into the present day. (SLO focus: 2,3,4)

Week 5: Scientific and Quantified Eating

There has been no bigger shift in dietary advice than a shift to understanding health and what we eat in terms of numbers, averages, and scales. This week examines some of the earliest developments in quantification of dietary knowledge and advice. Of course we confront the implications of this paradigm shift each day as we see nutritional information labels, scales, and watch-like devices that count our number of steps each day. (SLO focus: 1,2,3)

Week 6: Early Dietary Advice + Expertise comparison

This is a week of primary sources—dietary advice texts written between 1918 and 1922. They are all COMPLETELY different in their tone, approach, rhetoric, and the way their authors try to establish their expertise. Our goal is to understand how the same cultural context could yield such different texts and how they collectively illustrate several important facets of the history of diet/health/nutrition. If you haven’t seen them, check out the Week 5 REview lecture and the Week 6 PREview lecture. (SLO focus: 4,5)

Week 7: Vitamins

You’ve probably heard that you should take your vitamins. Of course they are crucial for health in minuscule amounts, but are we really in danger of falling short? Why is there so much focus on them? We’ve already seen them discussed in McCollum, but this week we look more closely at the discovery and marketing of vitamins in the early 1900s. The way the mere idea of vitamins reshaped nutritional thinking is still with us today. These readings also help us think about the relationship between scientific expertise and common sense. Be sure to check out the Vitamin PREview video; it will help with the quiz as well. (SLO focus: 2,3,4)

Week 8: The fat and malnourished body

Is fat bad? Of course not! But to say its role within dietary advice is controversial would be a huge understatement. Why is this? We’ve looked at the morality of dietary advice in several ways already, and one aspect that has persisted is the idea that some people can be “too fat” (and we even have quantified thresholds, which can be highly biased as we’ve read about), representing some kind of moral deficiency. This week examines how the idea of fat and fat bodies became something to avoid during the early 20th century and how the legacy of vitamins and micronutrients came to define “proper” nourishment. Check out the PREview video (SLO focus: 3,4,5)

Week 9: BREAK!

This week is a flex week to get caught up. I usually plan on a catch-up week when we have scheduled classroom meetings because I almost never quite get through everything I mean to. Obviously timing is a bit different when everything is asynchronously online. So, NOTHING TO DO THIS WEEK! Enjoy the time away from the history of dietary advice and I hope you’ll be recharged for the last section of class. Our readings shift from primarily historical studies to analyses of contemporary issues—and we’ll see what the long history of diet and health can add to the conversation.

Week 10: Obesity science, politics, and ethics

Continuing with our obsession with calories and fat, this week we evaluate some pieces on the so-called obesity epidemic in America. This week is less about historical constructions of diet as we’ve been focused on; instead we’re looking at contemporary rhetoric of diet and health in terms of obesity. These articles are a bit dated, but they still perfectly exemplify the kind of dietary philosophies and speculation that we see everyday. Our job is to critically evaluate these in terms of how we’ve learned to think about diet, health, and expertise in light of their histories. Here are some BIG POINTS to take away. (SLO focus: 1,3,4)

Week 11: Chronic effects

Our investigations into the history of diet have been about what we are deliberately putting into our bodies. But what about stuff we’re putting into our bodies unknowingly? How can science study minute affects of certain chemicals in our bodies over long periods of time given the complexity and variety of everyone’s diets? BIG POINTS for this week. (SLO focus: 2,5)

Week 12: Secret Ingredients, Relative Risk, and Regulation

We assume our food is safe. We assume that corporations that sell us food or nutritional supplements aren’t adulterating it, that the labels are accurate, and that claims about health benefits aren’t entirely fictitious. History shows that these are not good assumptions. This week we focus a little less on health per se and more about health claims, regulation, and safety—obviously continuing our line of inquiry from last week. BIG POINTS for this week. (SLO focus: 3,4,5)

Week 13: Dietary Dangers and Critiques

Not many people haven’t been on some kind of diet. How can we really evaluate whether any diet could be useful? Is there a “right” diet that we just haven’t found? Have we known it all along? This week is about EVALUATING dietary advice and dietary CRITIQUE. As you know from the course SLOs, the course is all about learning to think critically about dietary advice, using history to gain a broad perspective on it. So now we turn our attention from evaluating the rhetoric of dietary advice to evaluating the rhetoric of dietary critique. Don’t forget about the BIG POINTS critique for this week. (SLO focus: 1,4,5)

Week 14: Review and Reflection 1

This week we’re really starting to ramp down for the course. As a warm up for the course final (due the last Friday of Finals Week), your weekly reflection this week will be to analyze Wednesday’s reading (for which there is no assignment) in terms of the whole course. As soon as you can, check out the BIG POINTS critique for last week. It’s accidentally a little longer than normal (~30 min), but I hope you’ll agree that on the whole we’ve had a relatively low lecture requirement for this course! (SLO focus: 4,5)

Week 15: Food Traditions and Societal Health

I’m getting the sense this semester is feeling longer than usual (and they are too long anyway). Fewer assignments done better is in everyone’s best interests. So let’s make cancel culture work in our favor and cancel this week. Sooner than later, you’ll need to watch the future of nutrition article critique–the way I see the article you critiqued last week (Mozaffarian, et al.) and how it fits into the course. Essential viewing for a successful final.

Week 16: Review and Reflection 2

If you’re catching up from last week, you’ll need to watch the future of nutrition article critique–the way I see the article you critiqued before Thanksgiving week (Mozaffarian, et al.) and how it fits into the course. Essential viewing for a successful final. As with last week, you can see from the box below what the original assignment was going to be, but I honestly don’t think it’s useful at this point. SO IT’S CANCELLED. The whole week. WORK ON YOUR FINAL!

Before midnight on Friday, December 11

Post your final course reflection.