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Anne van Lieshout: A cookery book as master's thesis

03 August 2017
Anne van Lieshout
Anne van Lieshout

After following a Bachelor’s degree programme in History at the University of Groningen, I decided to continue my studies at the University and take the History Today Master’s degree. The scope for choosing your own course units and the abundance of opportunities offered by this particular Master’s programme were my main reasons. The same freedom applied to the Masters thesis; alternative graduation was an option and this is exactly what I chose to do!

Alternative thesis

After writing countless essays during my studies, I was ready for something different. I’ve always been interested in food but had never considered it as a subject for research. Slowly but surely, the idea of a cookery book with historical recipes began to develop. My graduation research focused on recipes and dishes from eighteenth and nineteenth-century Friesland, the place I grew up. I spent many long hours in the archives in Leeuwarden, ploughing through old recipe books, reports, menus and bills of fare. The knowledge I’d accrued from methodology course units such as Archives and Internet, and Visual Culture, as well as my Master’s placement in the Groningen Archives, made things a lot easier for me.

In my research, I tried to paint as varied and mixed a picture as possible. I not only examined what wealthy people ate (which is easy to ascertain because these were the people who could read, write and therefore leave records), but also what the middle-classes and poor people ate. I studied their daily diet, but also the food they ate on special occasions such as at family dinners and parties. I discovered a highly varied and surprising food culture, full of traditional classics such as pea soup with ryebread, as well as less well-known dishes such as almond milk and pineapple jelly. My cookery book gradually began to take shape.

Scientific justification

Although the cookery book Een Friesche eetgeschiedenis is the final product, I was assessed and finally graduated on the scientific justification for the book. This revolved around the current historiography and the choices I had made regarding the cookery book. As this was the first time that anyone had attempted to write a historical cookery book with supporting justification, my thesis supervisor (Dr Joop Koopmans) and I had to work out the blueprint for ourselves. It was a process of testing, writing, discussing and re-writing. We eventually found our way and the result speaks for itself!

I enjoy archive research, but I also want my thesis to show just how practical history can be. A thesis in the form of a cookery book will reach a much wider audience. People will be able to read about, make and enjoy the things that their ancestors ate. Food, preparation and consumption are all very practical matters. By making the recipes from my cookery book you are bringing the past closer to home, in fact quite literally into the kitchen!

Last modified:21 May 2019 3.22 p.m.
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