Cooking Up History: An Exhibition Full of History & Future Ready Opportunities 

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Last updated: April 3, 2024 15:41 EDT
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Upon signing up for their courses, students in two U of G courses, were met with a unique opportunity—to create an exhibition highlighting the 30th anniversary of the Culinary Historians of Canada (CHC). Alongside library staff and under the guidance of Dr. Rebecca Beausaert and Melissa McAfee, students underwent an experiential learning experience they’ll remember forever. 

The exhibit, which launches on April 2, 2024, highlights what’s happened in Canada’s food scene over the past thirty years, “Since their founding in 1994, the CHC have created a large community spanning all provinces and territories that connects Canadians who love food history,” said Dr. Rebecca Beausaert, adjunct professor, department of history, College of Arts. The CHC has an active Facebook group where they connect people from across the country and share recipes and information about upcoming events.  

The creation of this exhibit provided undergraduate students at U of G to take a deeper dive into the library’s vast Culinary Collection and explore Canadian food history. “Being part of the University of Guelph community means having the opportunity to use the vast resources available at the McLaughlin Library and in Archival & Special Collections. Students in courses like food history benefit from the immense collection of cookbooks and other culinary ephemera that is housed there,” said Beausaert. 

In addition to those taking Dr. Beausaert’s HIST*3240: Food History course, students in HIST*3560: Behind the Scenes in Archives and Rare Books, led by Melissa McAfee, also took part in interviewing chefs, cookbook writers, collectors, and food activists for the Culinary Milestones podcast. “It is always a great pleasure to work with U of G undergraduate students on exhibits. I was also fortunate to partner with two stellar fourth year history majors, since the fall of 2023, who provided excellent and thoughtful advice on every aspect of the exhibit from the title to the colour of the case linings,” said Melissa McAfee, special collections librarian, Archival & Special Collections. 

One of those fourth-year history students, is Sierra Susi, who spoke of the importance of being a part of the exhibit creation process, “As a history student, it was neat to see cookbooks used to connect with past communities and culinary technologies. I feel as if most people, when they see a cookbook, don’t immediately think of it as a historical artifact, and getting the opportunity to share with others the meaning and importance of these classic Canadian recipes and authors was very special to me,” said Susi. 

Many students who take part in these courses, and on the exhibit planning team, will pursue work in library and archival science, museum studies, and teaching history. “Upon graduation, students face a competitive job market, so the skills they honed curating this exhibit will help set them apart from their peers. They gained hands-on training working in an archive, handling archival materials, and learning from librarians and archivists. Some of the work they completed for the physical component of the exhibit will be available in the complementary online exhibit, which students can share with future employers or graduate school admission committees,” said Beausaert. In addition to archival specific skills, this experience also provided students with a variety of skills that can transcend a variety of careers, including writing, research, oral communication, and collaboration, all things that help students get future ready. 

“You cannot understand Canada’s contemporary food culture without understanding Canada’s culinary past,” said Graham Burt, associate, Archival & Special Collections. “By highlighting and celebrating the individuals who shaped Canada’s culinary history, the CHC plays an important role in preserving Canada’s food legacy and traditions.”

The launch of the exhibit took place on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 and featured talks by student curators, as well as Chef Jamie Kennedy and Fiona Lucas, food historian and co-founder of the CHC. If you missed the launch but want to access the exhibit, contact us to set-up a time.

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