HIST 410: Week 6

Early Dietary Advice + Expertise comparison

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.

If you haven’t seen them, check out the Week 5 REview lecture and the Week 6 PREview lecture.

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.

Note that our Friday reading starts to get into vitamins, which is the topic for next week, so you’re right if they seem to come out of nowhere. McCollum was trying to introduce vitamins in the same way Atwater was trying to introduce calories. So it’s a good introduction for us as well, but we’ll get into more detail next week.

For each source this week, I’ve indicated specific pages you should read fairly carefully. IN ADDITION—and this is ESSENTIAL—you should also carefully examine the table of contents and randomly sample pages or small sections throughout the book to get a feel for the text as a whole—namely what is and what isn’t addressed in the text, and HOW so. BROAD FAMILIARITY with the text as a whole is essential for you to write a competent reflection on it.

What is a primary source reflection?

A primary source reflection is ~250-word post (slightly longer than usual in lieu of no weekly reflection, but less overall writing for the week) that answers two related questions as thoroughly as you can:

  • Why do you think I want you to read this source? What is it meant to illustrate?

To answer these thoroughly, consider how the text fits into the course narrative so far.

  • Think about how it addresses (or doesn’t) the major themes we’ve focused on:
    • continuities and discontinuities of dietary advice
    • ways the author establishes expertise
    • moral aspects of dietary choice
    • differing rhetorical styles
  • What are the major beliefs about diet/health/society/etc that are motivating the author to write this?
  • Who is the audience? What does the author think their intended audience knows or doesn’t know?
  • How are the answers to these questions maybe a bit different than they have been with earlier sources?

I’d also love to know if you found this assignment a bit more interesting than the usual group work.

Mon 9/21

Wed 9/23

Fri 9/25