Empire through the Lens of Food

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 10:20 AM
Balcony K (New Orleans Marriott)
Natale Zappia, Whittier College
My presentation will share the experiences I’ve had teaching about the relationship between early modern food systems and regimes and ecological imperialism in the Americas and around the world. In many ways, the cultural and economic nature of food served as the “engine” shaping early modern encounters while food pathways led to the reengineering of early modern ecological and biological landscapes.  My interest stems from several research projects and courses that look at the role of the environment in shaping the contours of colonialism.  Course themes have included colonial environmental encounters, land use, consumption, production and trading routes.  My classes cover these themes within the context of particular empires, including French, British, and Spanish empires as well as the Comanches, Iroquois, and other expansionary Native polities.

My presentation will also discuss some of the methodologies I have employed in these courses, including those utilized in a recent paired “colonial food systems” course team taught with a sociologist, Sal Johnston.  Our course requires students to manage a sustainable organic micro-farm located on campus, which I helped establish.  This aspect demonstrates the importance of multi-paradigmatic approaches to studying the relationship between local and regional environmental regimes shaped by global empires.  For example, in a unit on the Columbian Exchange, we will address species colonization, monoculture, and global production enforced and managed by empires.  “Colonial Food Systems” also serves as part of Whittier College’s Sustainable Urban Farm Lab (SUrF) program.  SUrF aims to facilitate student and faculty-led research through workshops and internships on sustainable urban farming.  SUrF also seeks out various community outlets for students to practice permaculture principles, including at schools, community gardens, and urban farms.  As co-director of the program, I have been fortunate to advise students on various outreach projects and see first-hand how they have engaged the community.

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