Colonial Food in Interwar Paris: The Taste of Empire

By Lauren Janes

This past January, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was touring European capitals after the completion of the nuclear deal opened Iran to European investment.

On his visit to Paris he met with French President Francois Hollande, but not over a meal. The two leaders were originally supposed to share an upscale lunch, but the Iranian delegation demanded a meal prepared to Halal standards (something easily acquired in France) and with no wine served. The French president refused.

Rouhani and Holland were both constrained by popular concerns in their home countries that “outsiders” (be they Westerners in Iran or Muslims in France) were a threat to national identity, symbolized so viscerally by Halal dietary restrictions and French wine. The cultural meaning of these foods kept these two powerful world leaders from sharing a meal.

janes-colonial-foodMy new book, just published by Bloomsbury Academic Press, starts with this notion that foodways — what we eat, how we eat it, and how we talk about it — are powerful markers of identity. In Colonial Food in Interwar Paris: The Taste of Empire, I use this lens of food and identity to better understand France’s relationship with its empire during and after the First World War.

Colonial Food tells the story of how the French first tried to start shipping foods from the French colonies in Africa and Indochina to France during the First World War. This effort was an utter failure, but it inspired the French colonial lobby to start promoting the idea that the colonies could and should feed France. The rest of the book analyzes the promotion, reception, and rejection of colonial foods in France. I argue that the distrust of colonial food, from Indochinese rice to tropical fruit to curry powder, reflected French society’s disinterest in the empire.

You can learn more about the book and read a preview on Google Books.

Student-Faculty Collaborative Research: The United War Work Campaign

By Jeanne Petit

JeannePetitDuring the Summer of 2015, I and four Hope College history majors had the opportunity to spend 10 days at the Library of Congress to complete an intensive research project.

We set out to create a research-based website about the 1918 United War Work Campaign, a World War I fundraising campaign by religious and secular organizations to raise money for work with United States soldiers.

The students completed preliminary research at Hope College, and when they arrived at the Library of Congress, they began to explore the extensive collections. They explored many of the library’s divisions, including Prints and Photographs, Manuscripts, Newspapers and Periodicals, Rare Books, and Music Collections.

uwwc-studentsStudents also got the opportunity to work in the beautiful Main Reading Room and tour behind the scenes at the library. They had tremendous success in finding material that would create a strong foundation for a website, including propaganda posters, sheet music, photographs, advertisements in foreign-languages newspapers, and letters by presidents, generals, and other national leaders.

When the students returned to Hope, they completed work on a website titled: For the Boys over There: The 1918 United War Work Campaign. This website includes interpretive essays about the different organizations involved in the United War Work Campaign as well as analysis about the ways race, gender, religion and ethnicity shaped the campaign. This website will be of interest to the general public who want to learn about a fascinating story about the World War I United States as well as researchers who want to dig deeper into the primary sources of the campaign.

The benefit to students went beyond their research experience.

They also got the opportunity to interact with student scholars from John Cabot University in Rome and Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan. They learned about the research of those students and also got to know them as friends and learn about their cultures. Overall, this experience reveals the benefits of moving the research experience out of the classroom and allowing history students to take up the work of historians.

You can see the results of their work here: