How Foods Tasted in the Early Modern Period and How They Taste Now

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  • July 12, 2021
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22-05-12 School of Advanced Study

ST Lee Visiting Professorial Fellow Lecture: Changing Tastes: How Foods Tasted in the Early Modern Period and How They Taste Now

Speaker: Professor Steven Shapin, ST Lee Visiting Professorial Fellow, 2011/12, Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

In dietetic and natural philosophical frameworks of the period from Antiquity to the seventeenth century, the subjective experiences of taste, and indeed the experiences of digestion, testified to the make-up of the world’s edible portions. That is, such subjective experiences might be both philosophically and practically reliable. How did that framework help early modern eaters make sense of their bodies and that portion of the world that constituted their aliment? How did that sense-making capacity change over time, as new medical and scientific frameworks emerged from the eighteenth century and, finally, became scientifically dominant in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? What happened to the subjective experiences of taste when they no longer indexed how the world really is? How has the vocabulary used to describe taste changed? And how do we now know about the edible world?

Steven Shapin is Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science, joining Harvard in 2004 after previous appointments as Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and at the Science Studies Unit, Edinburgh University. His books include Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (with Simon Schaffer); A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England; The Scientific Revolution; The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation;
Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority, and several edited books. He has published widely in the historical sociology of scientific knowledge, and his current research interests include historical and contemporary studies of dietetics, the changing languages and practices of taste, the nature of entrepreneurial science, and modern relations between academia and industry. He writes regularly for the London Review of Books and has written for The New Yorker.

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