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Bobbi Sutherland: Not for the Cook of a Bourgeois or Even a Simple Knight: Class Identity in the Late Middle Ages and the Menagier de Paris

The Ménagier de Paris is an unusual text. Dating to the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, the text purports to be written by an anonymous man for his much younger fifteen-year-old wife and designed to teach her how to be a good wife in every way. Thus, the text contains a confessional, stories of good and bad women (many of which are found in other medieval tale collections, in the Bible, or in Classical literature), a treatise on gardening, a treatise on hawking, a collection of cleaning tips, numerous sample menus, the largest extant medieval recipe collection, and more. Contrary to what the title implies, the Ménagier reflects the world of Burgundian Flanders at least as much as it does that of Paris. Though the text is on one level hard to situate historically -- we do not know the identity of the author, nor exactly when or where it was written  --  on the other hand, it provides a wealth of detail about daily life, much of which is extremely concrete, as well as the author’s feelings, opinions, and worries about these matters. Moreover, the author all but states that he is a member of the bourgeoisie and seems to discuss topics of interest to this class of people. At the same time, however, all four extant manuscripts of the work were owned by members of the nobility, two copies by the Duke of Burgundy himself. Thus, looking at the text along with its earliest readership and in comparison to works connected to it, reveals much about the way social class was understood and expressed and how this related to social change in areas such as food culture and cuisine, religiosity, marital arrangements, and book culture. 

About the speaker

Dr. Bobbi Sutherland is an assistant professor of history at the University of Dayton, specializing in medieval history. Her research centers on the Menagier de Paris, a late medieval text written by a man for his 15-year-old wife. The work includes a wide range of material, including everything for stories to a cookbook, making it a great source for social-historical research. Dr. Sutherland has presented and published on the author’s approach to cuisine, his use of the Bible as a layman, and the way the work relates to the period following the Black Death. Her primary current project is a book examining the Menagieras a statement of bourgeois identity as it relates to the culture of conservation and change in the wake of the Black Death.

This talk is part of monthly history colloquia series. These lectures are open to the Calvin community - students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends - and all are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Come early to enjoy refreshments and conversation, and feel free to ask questions or join the discussion at the end.

February 2018
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