What America Ate

Tags: History, Multimedia & Digital Archives, National Endowment for the Humanities

Started in May of 2014, What America Ate is a collaborative effort between MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, the Michigan State University Department of History, the University of Michigan, and Montana State University. The project is led by principal investigators Dr. Helen Veit, Associate Professor of history at MSU, Dean Rehberger, Director of MATRIX and Associate Professor of history at MSU, and Peter Berg, Associate Director for Special Collections and Preservation, MSU Libraries. The project received a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The goal of What America Ate is to provide a digital archive and interactive website of culinary materials focusing on eating during Great Depression era. The project website will host an online archive of culinary resources from 1930 to early 1942, and contributors hope that it will be a valuable resource for every American, especially scholars and college students. This project will bring a wide variety of valuable sources onto the same platform, which will show show the diversity of points of view of writers and researchers, home cooks, and food company marketers.

Materials contributed to the project were pulled from across the United States. The archive will allow users to access papers from the Works Progress Administration’s America Eats project, which sent writers and photographers across the United States to document how Americans were eating during the Great Depression. These papers were pulled from five repositories: the U.S. Library of Congress, Montana State University, and the state archives of Kentucky, New York, and North Dakota. What America Ate will make some of these papers digitized for the first time. What America Ate will also bring attention to 200 local community and charity cookbooks from 1930 to 1940, which are kept in the MSU Library’s Special Collections and the University of Michigan Library’s Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive. These books will provide insight into how America’s small towns and back streets ate during the Depression. Additionally, the project will focus in on rare food advertisements and food packaging materials from the 1930s from MSU’s Alan and Shirley Brocker Sliker Culinary Ephemera Collection to show how technological and commercial forces shaped America’s eating during the Depression.