Food, Diet and Health in Early Modern Europe

Module code: HS3678

This module explores the relationship between food and health in Europe from Scotland to Sicily, and Portugal to Poland, during the early modern period. Against a backdrop of traditional staples, peasant hardship, regular famine and harvest failure, the period witnessed the arrival of foodstuffs from the New World (maize, potatoes, tomatoes, and chillies, to name but the most important), which were to transform the European diet.

Physicians abandoned the theory of bodily ‘humours’ and food ‘qualities’ that had dominated Western thought for the previous 1,500 years, with its complex dietary rules, in favour of mechanical and chemical explanations of bodily functions and disease. As a result, herbs increasingly took the place of spices, and lighter, ‘natural’ cookery replaced the intricately ‘balanced’ dishes of the past.

This module explores these changes, in all their regional differences, by mixing a range of historiographical approaches and traditions, including social history, history of medicine, and food history.