Tuesday 20 June in Groningen

Masterclass with Elizabeth Williams on the history of eating

Delicious and nutritious, food and drink occupy an ordinary yet essential part of people’s daily lives. But the way people experience food consumption and eating habits has changed considerably. Whereas in the past famines and malnutrition could kill a fifth of a country’s population, today obesity and diabetes are the cause of death for five million people a year. How have eating habits changed under the influence of new foodstuffs, food production, and consumerism? How were the nutritious qualities of nutriments understood and prescribed as diet? To what extent did diet and appetite determine people’s physical condition as well as their mental wellbeing? In this one-day seminar, professor Elizabeth Williams (Oklahoma State University) will host a masterclass on histories of food and diet, appetite and eating disorders, from Antiquity to the modern era.

This masterclass explores different approaches to the study of food and diet in history, to be presented by the speaker and the participants. How were notions of taste, appetite, and diet represented and conceptualized in medical and scientific treatises, cookbooks, advice manuals, letters and memoirs, travel and ethnographic reports, and proverbs and tales? How do visual and material sources such as paintings, textbook and popular illustrations, advertisements, and objects (cooking and eating utensils, food containers and packages, laboratory instruments) represent eating habits? To what extent do cultural, socioeconomic, and bio-archaeological methods complement each other in the study of food and alimentary practices? And, finally, how can the humanities help practitioners and patients to envision alternative ways to understand and cope with present-day challenges of obesity and eating disorders? With this focus on method and sources, this masterclass wants to invite RMa students and PhD candidates from various disciplinary backgrounds.

Date:                    Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Time:                   11:00 – 17:00h

Venue:                 Groningen University Museum

Open to:              RMa students and PhD candidates

Credits:                1 ECTS

Coordination:     Dr Rina Kroeff & Ruben Verwaal

Register before: 1 June 2017 (via Huizinga Institute)


About the speaker

Elizabeth A. Williams is Professor Emerita in the History department of Oklahoma State University. She took her PhD at Indiana University and is an expert in French medicine in the long eighteenth century. She has published The Physical and the Moral: Anthropology, Physiology, and Philosophical Medicine in France, 1750–1850 (Cambridge, 1994) and A Cultural History of Medical Vitalism in Enlightenment Montpellier (Aldershot, 2003). Her latest book Appetite and Its Discontents: Science, Medicine, and the Drive to Eat, 1750–1950 is nearing completion. In this book Williams studies two centuries of scientific and medical theorizing on how the appetite for food is formed and functions, focusing especially on work in physiology, animal behavior studies, and somatic and psychiatric medicine. She also investigates “eating disorders” as conceived in modern medicine along with an array of psycho-gastric conditions that in the nineteenth century were often called “neuroses of the stomach,” giving special attention to the role of gender. Williams argues that the history of appetite has been marked by a drive toward uniformity and that any approach to troubled eating must respect the experience and autonomy of individual eaters.


Participants are invited to write an essay (max. 2 pages) on food, diet, and related topics. During the masterclass they will present their work, and the examples will be used to discuss methodological issues and multidisciplinary approaches to food and diet.

11:00 – 11:05h

– Welcome by Rina Knoeff

11:05 – 12:00h

– Elizabeth Williams: Why Do We Eat as We Do? Appetite in Science and Medicine, 1750–1850

– Discussion

12:00 – 12:30h

– Presentations by contributors Round I

12:30 – 13:30h

– Healthy lunch

13:30 – 15:30h

– Presentations by contributors Round II

15:30 – 16:00h

– Coffee & tea break

16:00 – 17:00h

– Visit to Gelukkig Gezond! exhibition in the University Museum


Interested students and researchers can participate in two ways: as an active auditor or as a contributor. Contributors are expected to submit a short paper (max 2 pages, by 13 June, may be send to Huizinga-fgw@uva.nl), which is required for earning 1 ECTS. These papers, together with the proposed literature from the speakers, will be distributed in advance to all participants, both contributors and auditors, and will be starting point for discussion.


  • Williams, Elizabeth A. “Gags, Funnels and Tubes: Forced Feeding of the Insane and of Suffragettes,” Endeavour 32 (2008): 34–39.
  • Stolberg, Michael. “Abhorreas Pinguedinem: Fat and Obesity in Early Modern Medicine (c. 1500–1750).” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (2012): 370–378.
  • Guerrini, Anita. “Health, National Character and the English Diet in 1700.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (2012): 349–356.

© Histories of Healthy Ageing

Conference Organisers: Dr. Rina Knoeff (chair), Dr. James Kennaway, Ruben Verwaal, Prof. Catrien Santing, Rolf ter Sluis

Research Institute for the Study of Culture, University of Groningen,

Oude Kijk in 't Jatstraat 26, 9712 EK, Groningen, The Netherlands

Contact: info@historiesofhealthyageing.nl

Sponsors and Partners: