Dining with Death: An Exploration of Food Culture during the Long Black Death (1348-1771) Part II

Part II!

Australian Medievalists

In part one, I established what my thesis project was and how and why I decided to study food culture and the long Black Death (1348-1771). In this part, I will go through the main points of my chapters and provide a brief ‘exploration’ of food culture. As stated before, my first chapter, Pathologising Moisture, focused on the scientific and medical knowledge of plague. These were predominately based on Galenic humoral theory. In 1348, physicians believed that the human body was made up of three groups:

  1. Naturals (humours, spirits, faculties, members, sex organs)
  2. Non-naturals (air, exercise and rest, food and drink, repletion and excretion, and passions and emotions)
  3. Contra-naturals (diseases)

A sudden or prolonged change in the non-naturals would create an imbalance of the humours and caused disease.1 Humoral theory was known and practised by Islamic, Jewish and Christian doctors in North Africa and Europe. This similar knowledge is…

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Dining with Death: An Exploration of Food Culture during the Long Black Death (1348-1771) Part I

Finally finished the article about my thesis! This was originally presented as a conference paper at the University of Sydney History Honours Conference on November 7, 2014. I believe Part 2 will be available Friday.

Australian Medievalists

Emma-Louise Groucutt is a food historian, focusing on the medieval and early modern period. Her current research interests include nutrition, dietetics and the social hierarchy of food. Her thesis was based on the links between epidemic disease and cultural change and particularly focused on the relationship between the Black Death and European food culture. Emma also likes to write fictions. You can find other works by Emma at www.teapotsandtypewriters.wordpress.com.

The way we eat reflects how we see the world and ourselves. For those who lived during and after the Black Death in Europe and North Africa, food served as an expression of their experiences. By examining food culture, insight is gained into how they perceived disease and how an epidemic changed their world.

It can also show how they perceived death. For the Florentine chronicler Marchione di Coppo Stefani, it seemed death was much like a casserole. In his…

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Short Story: Sparks

It swam with the current, flying fast down the line.

“Oh, what shall I be? Oh, what shall I see?” It thought.

Unformed thoughts and purposes cluttered up its mind, like neutrons. It never had decided and now the time was ripe, to see the world, to make a difference, to do something more than spin aimlessly, waiting, just waiting to be useful.

Father and mother, brother and sister, all had gone to do things, see things. One had lit the room of a great author, so she could write by candle light of crimes and egg shaped Belgian men. Another had embraced the wild, befriending a generator, travelling to the Arctic with intrepid explorers. All had done things. All had seen things. And all had returned to tell of them. Energy could not die and so their tales grew, circulating around the current.

“Oh, what shall I be? Oh, what shall I see?” It thought.

Though they had illuminated the lives of many students, of erudite scholars, they had no formal education system. They just grew and ebbed, lit up a room and dimmed away, returning to cast their knowledge into an ever growing pool.

Thoughts of a bright future, filled with a knowledge of all things scintillating. It would cast old knowledge into shadow, declaring a paradise of endless energy and learning.

“Oh, what shall I be? Oh, what shall I see?” It thought. “Oh, I am here! But… what… where is here?”


James Alistair McAlistair frowned and banged the side of his electric kettle. “Come on, I need tea. No tea, no work. I refuse to work without tea!” He thought of microwaving his tea mug but decided against it. Microwaved tea was insipid. The perfect cup of tea must be boiling water poured straight over the leaves. Whether bag or loose, it must be boiling.


“Oh, I can help!” The spark revelled! “I shall be the provider of tea!” It endeavoured to leap to the kettle, pleased beyond measure. Would it help to create darjeeling? Pu-erh? Earl grey? A humble mug of Lipton? It could barely stop vibrating with excitement.


The neighbours had never heard James Alistair McAlistair curse so loud as he held his singed hand. That blasted kettle had sparked! It even crackled malevolently at him! Or so he thought. What James Alistair McAlistair did not realise was that he had witnessed something rare. The death of something that had finally figured out what it would be, what it would do. The other sparks would never know the knowledge of their kin but would tell tales of how it had leapt to its death because it had no knowledge of what it was or what it would do. But they were wrong.

It knew very well it was going to be. It just didn’t know that James Alistair McAlistair was a cheapskate who never bought new appliances. A fatal accident was chalked up to suicide when, really, one should always make sure that electric appliances are well maintained.

RIP Sparks. You had such great potential.

Thoughtful Mondays: Desk & I

8:45am ‘Oh, hey Desk! I remember you from last year. Glad a familiar surface is still here. New faces, absent voices, but you. You’re still here. Hold my bag for me?’

9:15am ‘Don’t worry Desk. I’m back again. Just needed to put my lunch in the fridge. Now to be friends forever!’

10:15am ‘Desk, calm down. I just went to the bathroom. No, I’m not cheating on you with Sink. I’d never leave you. Really. Can you hand me the pile of papers over there? Thanks Desk.’

12:00pm ‘Alrighty Desk. I should go to lunch soon… Yup. Time to go walk aimlessly for an hour. Maybe we should buy you a treadmill… hm. Might include that in my first employment contract.’

1.00pm ‘Hey, Desk, who’s sitting near you? I thought you were my Desk. Just couldn’t handle being alone could you… Fine, I’ll just go talk to some other desk then…’

3:00pm: ‘Oh hi Desk. How are you? Still here? I mean, it’s only 5 hours into Monday, where else would you be? You want me back now? Fine. I’ll just sit here again.’

3:10pm ‘Oh DESK you are so funny. Let’s head bang like it’s the 00s and I’m back in high school. Actually let’s not because that emo stage may just kill me with embarrassment.. Oh god, is that more emails? Really? We should take a holiday together. Just you and me Desk. Yeah. Where do you wanna go? Oh, you just wanna stay here? Jeez, Desk, get a life.’

3:35pm ‘What… it’s only 3.35?! Desk, I swear you turn the clock back when I go get a cup of tea. What do you mean, you don’t know how to use a computer? You have one on you everyday! Do you want a cup of tea? No? Desk, you are a horrible thing. You don’t want to come to lunch with me, you don’t want to go on holiday, and you hate it when i give you tea! It’s like you don’t even want me here!’

4:55pm ‘You know what Desk? I’ll just leave. That’s it. Fine. No more of this fighting senselessly to get work done when all you want to do is complain when I come back from somewhere else THAT YOU WOULDN’T GO IN THE FIRST PLACE. I’ll just go now. Jeez Desk. You should really get out more.’

5:00pm ‘… forgot my purse. I’ll see you tomorrow, Desk.’

Disclaimer: I started full time (but indefinite) work today. So, not really a permanent position but with all the monotony of a real life, real world job. I love my boss and the people in my office. But I feel I have become really close to my desk. This conversation may or may not be completely, mostly, totally, and only a little bit, false.

Thoughtful Mondays: Beginnings

To start this weeks Thoughtful Monday, an update on the cat that was lost and found again! After a visit to my grandparents, conveniently adjacent to us, it turned out that the cat had been living on our land for approximately 6 days. He had not gone home but had decided to sleep under a tree. A visit to the local vet revealed he had a microchip and they promised to get him back to the owner. Unfortunately, when I checked the local animal shelters, the vet had turned him over to one which was notorious for being high-kill. Before I could manage to rescue him (despite allergies, I was sure someone would love him…), it turned out that he had been adopted and would be safe from death even if his owner didn’t collect him. Thankfully for that gorgeous cat, he was a purebred Birman (not a rag doll as previously thought!) and apparently more desirable to a new owner than the ‘domestic short hairs’ the shelter also holds (though I would happily adopt any of them if I lived on my own, some owners have a preference for ‘thoroughbreds’…).

From http://nationalbirmanfanciers.com/about-birmans3.html

Not actual cat since the shelter has since taken him off their list of animals to adopt…

The shelter nicknamed him Timberlake, so to whoever Timberlake’s new family is, thank you for adopting him. As a more general statement, if you are thinking of getting a cat or a dog, please go to your local animal shelter and make sure to either get a microchip or update it with your current contact details. If you find a lost pet and you have to turn them over to a pound or shelter after doing everything possible to find their owner, please make sure it is a shelter with a low or no kill policy. The amount of once-loved animals that are euthanised for no reason but convenience or lack of shelter space is both shocking and distressing and lost pets often only have 7 days to live if they are not microchipped.

Note: If you find a cat, make sure they are actually lost first. Due to their tendency to explore a few kilometre radius around their home, they may just be having an adventure…

So, what this post is really about is beginnings. A new beginning for Timberlake and an attempt at a beginning for the writing week for me. The attempts to summarise my thesis into a concise article and conference paper are a tad draining, particularly while I try to remind myself what it was actually about. The conference is on Thursday, so plenty of time yet. I have promised Kiera of Australian Medievalists that the article version will be done soon and it absolutely shall! Maybe next weeks thoughts will be about conclusions. Anyway, I have a number of things I’ve started…. but… I think the perfect beginning is one of the hardest parts of writing. I often feel unsatisfied with it and have to alter it before I get anywhere yet I feel this may be the least productive way to write a beginning. Maybe the best way is to simply add in a lot of [say smart thing here], [remember to introduce point 2 here] and move onto the body, rewriting the introduction after reaching the conclusion. Of course, that would not have worked for this post but then again, cats are rather wonderful ways to begin a post about the difficulty of writing beginnings without actually writing a beginning about beginnings.

Like many other aspiring authors, I have a number of novels started (are we authors before we have a completed and published book? Writer is perhaps a more definite term for the aspiring?… Or is that just imposter syndrome?). They exist in half page formats or loosely plotted out lines but they have not really truly ‘begun’. I envy the writers who say they just sit and write the whole novel at once. Characters and plots just fall into place. Harder for those like me who need to develop a loose story line or risk the entire novel wandering into some sort of ‘wibbly wobbly timey wimey’ ending (seriously, what was with that season…). Anyway, since I have begun this post, I feel I should actually continue writing things. Do I end a post about beginnings? Is that possible? It’s up to the reader I guess…

Also, go take a look at Australian Medievalists! If you like medieval history and other things, they are an excellent read and really lovely people.