Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive
Hatcher Graduate Library
913 S. University Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
A collection of American culinary history: cookbooks and other materials from the 16th through the 20th century
We are not just what we eat, but how we eat — not to mention when, where and with whom. Cookbooks, menus, advertisements, manuals of table etiquette and the like may not be written to preserve the history of everyday life, but that’s exactly what they do.
And this is what makes the library’s Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive so valuable. Containing more than 15,000 items, it paints a rich and unique portrait of American life over the centuries.
“On one level, the collection is about what people cooked and ate — but that’s just a doorway to explore how people saw themselves and their neighbors,” says collection curator JJ Jacobson.
Through the culinary archive one can explore changing attitudes towards diet and health, homemaking, commercial dining and the industrialization of food production. It also reveals historical ideas about race, class, and gender.
“This is the kind of history that’s not concerned so much with empires, kings and battles, but with where the wheat comes from, how the bread is made, how ethnic groups adopte each others recipes, and what their cultures tell women and men they should be like,” Jacobson adds.
And food continues to be an important part of our culture — contemporary discussions about organic produce, fast food, Atkins and other diet fads, concentrated feed lots, vending machines in schools and the merits of vegetarianism all stem from historical contexts chronicled in the archive.
The collection is shaped by the donation of a rich assemblage of cookbooks, menus, and other material collected over many years by Jan Longone, an adjunct curator in the U-M Special Collections Library, and her husband Dan.
Not so long ago, even the concept of American culinary history was met with skepticism.
“[Critics] said America had no cuisine or culinary history to speak of; all we ate were hamburgers,” Jan Longone wrote of attitudes at an Oxford University food symposium in the 1980s. Yet today the archive is recognized as a premier collection for the study of American culture as it relates to food and home life.
Writing in the Boston Globe, renowned chef James Beard called an exhibit of works from the collection “an unequaled feat of culinary scholarship.”
“Not all the cookbooks are good cookbooks, but they are all interesting and the authors, mainly women, were an amazing group who did a great deal to influence American history,” Beard wrote in the 1984 column.
And the collection has only continued to grow and evolve since then. Formerly held at U-M’s William L. Clements Library, it was transferred to the U-M Library in 2013 where its potential for teaching and scholarship can be fully realized.