This post was originally published on August 8, 2022 as a part of IU East Professor of Spanish Dianne Moneypenny’s sabbatical blog, S*uh*battical. Emphasis on the “uh?” She participated in a 2022 Faculty Exchange Program funded by the Office of the Vice President of International Affairs (IU Global). You can read her complete story as well as insights into the process of applying and organizing the exchange on her blog. Faculty at all IU campuses can apply for an academic year 2023-24 exchange program now!
I was so fortunate to receive the IU Faculty Exchange with the University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy. UniBo, established in 1088, is the oldest university in Europe and it is nestled in the region Emilia Romana. Bologna is known as both the land of slow food and fast cars and as the red, the fat, and the learned. Red is for their red wine, fat is from their famous cured meats, and the learned is for UniBo. While I was there, I personally experienced the red wine, the fat (though as a vegetarian it was just from the overall DELICIOUS food), and the learned as I conducted scholarly research on medieval women in Iberian/Mediterranean food culture. I could not have imagined a better place to research food studies.
The major focus of my research exchange was a 15th century text housed in the Palatine Library in Parma, Italy. It was a short train ride from Bologna. It was an amazing opportunity and had this been the only part of my research findings, it would have sufficed. But I got to experience and learn so much more. To the left is an image of the incredible (yet un-airconditioned) reading room. After some confusion upon check in (I had emailed the library weeks ago informing them of my upcoming visit to be sure I had all paperwork in order to be able to access the text, but had never received a response), I was allowed in with my trusty assistant, my husband Gordon.
I requested the text and the librarian brought it out from storage and handed it to me…in all the 15th century leathered glory. The Manual de mujeres was in my hands-literally see photo to the right! I requested gloves, which sent the whole library into a tizzy as they tried to locate a pair.
The Manual de mujeres is a book written FOR women, but allegedly not BY a woman. It is a handbook on all kinds of home remedies and recipes from makeup, to stomach remedies, to soup. It is written in Castilian and is believed to have been brought to Italy as part of a bride’s dowry. As I gently peeled back the cover in my now gloved hands, I was overcome. I couldn’t believe I was actually touching this book that I had read about so often. As soon as I turned the page I saw something that no description of the book had revealed to me. A drawing of a woman in 15th century attire! I also found two instances where a woman edited this book! The text appears in Italian scribbled under the formalized manuscript in two places. What does this tell us? 1. Women were actively laying the groundwork for the Mediterranean diet. 2. Some of these literate women understood multiple languages. 3. The exchange across the Mediterranean was real and more pervasive than our current nation-based models lead us to believe. This supports my research of finding women’s voices from the medieval Mediterranean kitchen.
Being in Bologna also exposed me to unexpected research. Part of my research studies illuminations of women in cooking scenes. When I was in Bologna I learned about a manuscript titled Tacuinum Sanitatus. This manuscript was created in northern Italy, but written in Latin. As I am generally an Iberian scholar examining manuscripts from Iberia or in an Iberian language, this manuscript had escaped my notice. Yet, there are numerous images of women not just cooking but also in the field harvesting crops alongside men. This manuscript clearly demonstrates women’s agency in Mediterranean food culture.
There were also several institutions that benefited my research. The Jewish Museum told the story of sephardic Jews who fled Spain for Italy. The image [below] shows their migrations. I also discovered a centuries long partnership between UniBo and Spain. There is an institute for students from Spain studying at UniBo that was established in the 12th century and still operates! The Medieval Museum of Bologna further illustrated the exchange between the Mediterranean region, and even between the Americas and Italy.
Beyond scholarly pursuits inside museums, I was able to experience food in many other ways. I took a cooking class and learned the methodology of traditional tagliatelle from a sfogolina (certified pasta maker). I tried Bálsamic vinegar from Modena and local farmers. In Modena one can find the best restaurant in the world, Osteria Francescana by Massimo Bottura. And, yes, somehow the stars aligned and I was able to get a reservation. This restaurant takes traditional Italian recipes and deconstructs or rethinks them…deliciously. The countless butchers, cheese shops, pasta labs, and general appreciation for centuries old traditions in food preparation makes Bologna and ideal place for any scholar researching food studies. I am so grateful to have had this experience.
For information on the application and planning process for this trip, please see my earlier blog.
Applications for Faculty Exchange Programs are currently open and accepting applicants from any IU faculty member, researcher, or librarian through December 1 for the 2023-24 academic year. Learn more about the process, eligibility requirements and how to apply on the IU Global website.