Books are incredible things. Within their pages we find founts of information, reprieve from daily life, and everything in between. However, books are more that their content, and what they are beyond that content few think to question. For example, while many consider what a book’s content can reveal about the author, few consider how a book’s binding may prove useful into the history of the hand-press era. An author’s note may provide clues to their intended purpose for the book, just as inscriptions and notes from the owners provide insight into the actual use of the book.

These questions and more are what the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) digital course, “The Social Life of Books“, sought to answer. Through the Spring of 2017, students from seven different universities studied under Professors Benjamin Pauley and Benjamin Bankhurst, learning about book history and culture from looking at how to identify the format of a book in the hand press period to tracking down people based on inscriptions in a book.This site presents the work of Kinsey Danzis and Dakota White, two students at the University of North Carolina Asheville

Our final project is a study of one of the collections in the UNC Asheville’s Special Collections, the Pamela C. Allison Cookbook Collection. This website is the culmination of our work determining the stories told of the people and the places where the cookbooks originated.  One of the largest influences on our work is a collection of essays titled Foodways, which introduced us to a lot of the rhetoric we needed to connect the histories of books, food, and people. Foodways themselves are where culture, tradition, and history intersect, and we developed our project around finding and exploring that point of intersection (Darnton).

Using the tools and techniques learned through the semester, we studied the relations between the cookbooks and their place of origin, the purpose and use of the books, the importance of the recipes included, and how the connection between food and history is a story told by the cookbooks. Additionally, we worked to understand how our own city of Asheville fit into the narrative we studied, using it as a local, less abstract case study of the larger picture.

This project taught both of us a lot about how books are always more than just books and we enjoyed the journey! Please explore the rest of the site and our work!


Photo Credits: Header – Kyle Noel, 2015.

Darnton, Julia. “Foodways: When Food Meets Culture and History.” Michigan State University Extension. Retrieved 1 May 2016.