Ellen Barth’s doctoral dissertation examines women’s involvement in the production of American community cookbooks in the second half of the 20th century. First produced during the US Civil War, these books are noteworthy for being popular non-professional publications as well as for the fact that they are—in the vast majority of cases—written, compiled, and published by women.
The second half of the 20th century saw a steep rise in community cookbook production. Furthered by the use of at-home and inexpensive printing strategies, the low bar for entry into community cookbook publishing invited and inspired abundantly diverse groups of women to engage in print production. Community cookbooks offered American women an otherwise scarce opportunity to become agents in the production of books and represent themselves, their histories, and their communities in print.
Focusing particularly on the books’ material aspects and the mechanisms of their creation, this project aims to shed light on the way women have participated in publishing outside of mainstream channels, using their own methods and print culture practices. Doing so questions entrenched ideas about authorship, the nature of publishing, the value of the amateur, and extent to which women have participated as active agents in American book culture.
This research has been supported in part by a 2019 Michigan State University Libraries Special Collections Visiting Fellowship and the 2021 BSA-Pine Tree Foundation Fellowship in Culinary Bibliography.