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A recipe for a lesson plan

Wake Forest University history professor Dr. Stephanie Koscak discusses the process of developing open access coursework and provides a lesson plan for inspiration. 
Published onAug 22, 2023
A recipe for a lesson plan
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At Wake Forest University, I regularly teach an upper-level undergraduate survey of women’s and gender history between 1500 and 1800. This class uses gender as a lens for analyzing transformations in households, culture, society, and politics, with required modules on understandings of sex and the body, women’s economic roles, the Reformation, colonialism, scientific developments, the Enlightenment, and so on. Across the semester, we use recipes and recipe books, as well as recent scholarship on early modern recipes and foodways, as sources for studying these topics. Some of the key assigned readings analyze how recipe books functioned as cross-generational “family archives”; how they reflect and reveal gendered, collaborative “labor within household kitchens and gardens”; how the home served as a space for learning and experimentation before the domains of the laboratory and kitchen diverged; how women practiced home-based medicine and defended female medical knowledge about bodies and wellness; and how “recipe books were tools of empire, used to appropriate, translate, and transmit the global foodways . . . [of early] colonial schemes.”1 Organizing our class around recipes and receipt books helped foster a supportive and collaborative learning community and encouraged students to see the early modern household as a space of knowledge creation, experimentation, healing, and gendered labor, implicated in larger histories of trade, colonialism, and slavery. As students noted in reflections and assignments, historic manuscript recipes record the voices of women otherwise absent from the archive, but they also reflect the expansion of empire and trade that transformed European diets, cultures, and gender ideals.

Inspired by the work of the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC), the Before Farm to Table research initiative on early modern foodways at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Cooking in the Archives, students completed a series of assignments that were published on our PubPub site: they transcribed recipes from an eighteenth-century receipt book held at the Wellcome Library (MS. 7746), recreated an historic recipe, and authored a research essay for a public audience about a topic of their own choosing related to the history of early modern gender, women, recipe books, and/or global foodways. Working in small groups, students first transcribed portions of MS. 7746, an early eighteenth-century English recipe book written in multiple hands, with many recipes attributed to friends, authorities, and family members (“To Pot Beefe Ant B’s way,” “To Salt Hams Lady Powel’s way,” “Mrs. Bennits Cake”). For this part of the project, we used From the Page, a collaborative online transcription platform that allowed students to easily tag their transcriptions using TEI Encoding Standards. To ensure accuracy and consistency, we adopted EMROC’s transcription conventions. Students therefore gained practical skills of paleography, archival research, digital publishing, and cultural heritage preservation. As Margaret Simon argues, student-centered recipe transcription projects create an intellectual and emotional “process-oriented experience” that cultivates “a similar disposition” to that found “in many recipe books.” Group transcription fosters comparable forms of cooperation, discussion, and discovery, and the public nature of these projects, such as those organized by EMROC, “break such texts out of the traditional brick-and-mortar archive and puts them, once again, into social circulation, repositioning them within networks of collaboration and exchange predicted by their own initial creation.”2 On that note, if you’re interested in helping transcribe MS. 7746, you can sign up for a free From The Page account to do so!

PubPub’s platform also enabled us to put these recipes back into networks of collaboration and social circulation – once our transcriptions were peer-reviewed and published on our site, students worked in groups of 2 to 3 to update and recreate a receipt from the book, and we were able to use PubPub’s connection feature to establish site links between recipe recreations and transcriptions. The purpose of this assignment was to deepen students’ understandings of manuscript recipe books, historic food cultures, and the history of women and gender in early modern Europe by giving them an opportunity to reflect on these topics and course readings in relation to particular recipes and individual interests. This was an open-ended, creative assignment that allowed students a lot of flexibility. The prompt students received included the following directions:


You may work in small groups (up to 3 people) to recreate a historic recipe from Wellcome Library MS. 7746. Your assignment may take the form of a website ‘blog’ post, a video, a documentary-style video essay, or TikTok video, a podcast, or something similar. If you have additional ideas, I’m happy to talk through them with you. As part of this assignment, you must engage with at least 3 concepts or important ideas discussed in class and the course readings. In other words, your assignment may be as creative or unique as you would like, but it should relate to early modern women’s and gender history and it should include a pedagogical lesson connected to three themes, concepts, or ideas from our class. You are encouraged to complete additional research as necessary.

You should update your recipe using modern units of measure and substitutions – be sure to write out the updated recipe that you used. What does this recipe reveal about course topics and questions? How did recreating the recipe reveal important information about its historical context, such as material life in early modern households, consumer patterns and taste, gendered labor patterns, ideals about women’s roles and education, or networks of trade and colonization? Why is this recipe historically significant? Your assignment might take the form of a blog post or cooking video. For an example of what your post might look like, see Dr. Amanda Herbert’s blog post about Hannah Wooley’s 17th-century pumpkin pie recipe. For additional examples, see the Cooking in the Archives website. Here is another excellent post on drinking chocolate recipes in Folger Library culinary manuscripts. If you want to make a video about early modern cooking, you might watch this video made by previous students in this class or watch this video made by the culinary historian Michael Twitty and the Townsends for inspiration. For information on historic foods or ingredients, see the “Background Sources” in our library research guide, particularly Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food (2014). 

Students who were uncomfortable recreating a video were able to complete alternative assignments – they might write a reflection about one of our course speakers or a review of a book related to course topics, in both cases drawing specific connections to assigned readings and class discussions.

Students chose a variety of different recipes to recreate in their kitchens – from gingerbread, to pancakes, to lip salve, to puff pastry. In their videos and reflections, they reflected on early modern beauty standards, including emerging ideas about race and racial difference; on the expansion of British empire, trade, and commerce in the eighteenth-century, reflected in recipes that included large quantities of sugar, likely produced in Caribbean plantation colonies, and novel, exotic ingredients imported from Asia; and on the difficulties of recovering the material history of the early modern household and the communities of knowledge, sociability, and labor to which women belonged. Recreating historic recipes, Dr. Marissa Nicosia of Cooking in the Archives argues, is a “feminist and ecofeminist issue.” It encourages us to consider where ingredients came from, who produced them, and under what conditions, “offer[ing] us a way to reflect upon the nameless communities that were responsible for making those recipes possible both in the early modern era and in the twenty-first century.”4

This was a rewarding assignment that I will continue to develop in the future. A sample rubric for evaluating recipe recreations is included below. Throughout the semester, students supported each other by peer-editing transcriptions, participating in in-class transcription labs, visiting our library’s Special Collections to view eighteenth-century manuscript recipe fragments, peer-reviewing and commenting on each other’s work in PubPub, and sharing their prior cooking and household knowledge to update and recreate early eighteenth-century recipes included in MS. 7746. “The kitchen in early modern homes was an intimate space of collaboration and conflict among women, and it was vitally important in fostering relationships between women,” one group notes, reflecting on their attempt to make gingerbread following a spare but piquant recipe that includes not just ginger, but carraway, anise, and licorice. The kitchen was a place in which early modern women learned, labored, socialized and formed alliances.3 Thus, this project allowed students not only to develop practical skills related to public historical research and cultural heritage preservation—including an introduction to paleography, semi-diplomatic transcription conventions, and digital humanities scholarship—but it also facilitated the formation of a shared learning community that highlights the collaborative authorship and knowledge creation of early modern household recipe books.

Sample Rubric – Recipe Recreation 

1. Posted Correctly to PubPub site (5 points)

Your post must be correctly submitted to “Assignment 2: Reflection” on our PubPub site. Your post includes a title at the top of the page with your name(s) underneath it. Each group will have just ONE submission. The word count for written posts should be about 800-1200 words. If you are creating a video, you should upload the file directly to our PubPub site. You could also upload it to a private YouTube channel and embed it your pub (Google how to do this or come to DH Lab hours).

2. Hyperlinks (5 points)

Where appropriate, your post includes working, relevant hyperlinks to sources, websites, museums, or scholars’ webpages. It should also include links out to the recipe you’re recreating from MS.7746. 


3. Questioning and Significance (5 points)

 Your post discusses a meaningful and significant question or idea that relates to major themes, questions, and topics about gender history (including how gender history intersected with other forms of identity and difference), women’s history, and/or historic recipes and food cultures. For a list of important course topics and questions, see the learning objectives in the syllabus, guiding questions posted in each week’s module, and discussion leaders’ questions.


4. Organization and Clarity

(10 points)  

 Your post (whether written or created as a video) is well organized and clear – no parts are confusing or difficult to understand. You should include a brief introduction to the main topic of your post; the main ideas are logically organized and discussed; and the reader can easily follow your argument or discussion. A general reader would be able to understand your discussion and analysis. 


5. Analytical Component

(45 points)

 You thoughtfully, critically, and originally engage with 3 concepts or significant ideas discussed in course discussions and readings. It should be immediately clear which 3 concepts or ideas you are engaging with. Quotations and passages from the readings must be carefully analyzed or discussed to show how they relate back to the main topic of your post. You must use these concepts or ideas to bring a depth of understanding to the historic recipe you are recreating. All quotations are appropriately footnoted at the bottom of your post. If you are creating a video, you should include each of the sources in a written bibliography included at the bottom of your webpage. You are encouraged to complete outside research for this assignment, but you must still engage with 3 major course themes, readings, or concepts. You may also choose to include a list of additional selected readings or sources at the bottom of your webpage or discussed in your analysis.

 No matter which format your post takes or how creatively you decide to interpret this assignment, it must include “a pedagogical lesson.”


6. Visual Component (10 points)

Your post includes clear images and/or videos. All images should include captions and be discussed in the body of the post. Images are not blurry or randomly placed.


7. Polish (10 points)

The post (written or video) looks professional. It is free from grammatical and sentence-level errors. Video posts are carefully edited – sound quality and pace (rhythm and voice punctuation) are consistent and enhance the viewer’s engagement.


8. Bibliography (10 points)

You must include citations (footnotes) at the bottom of your Pub. Cite all primary and secondary sources used in the post. Image sources should be correctly inserted in an attribution statement in the caption. If you are creating a video, you should include a bibliography at the bottom of your page.



Total points




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Teaching resources for Domestic Knowledge
Teaching resources for Domestic Knowledge

Kyle Denlinger, Digital Pedagogy & Open Education Librarian at Wake Forest University, shares some tools, forms, checklists, and processes he uses to support open pedagogy. 

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