Special Series: Food History Pedagogy: Preparing Presentations (Part 1)

Food History Pedagogy: Preparing Your Presentation

This post is part of a special series on pedagogy. 

Whether you are a professor, teaching-assistant, student, or independent scholar, it is likely that you will be in a position where you teach. The context may be during a class, conference, seminar, or a meeting. Of course, the setting and the relationship between the members of the group will influence the format. However, for this special series, I have included some advice about how to teach food history material in a seminar style class that includes a discussion-based format. Due to the variety of contexts and situations, I alternate between the terms "class," "participants," "students," and "members."

Part I: Preparing the Presentation

It is common practice to begin a discussion-based class with some kind of opening presentation. Here you may give the class an overview of the materials that will be discussed, cover theoretical or methodological frameworks touched on by readings your students have done, or introduce new materials. 

Test your technology in advance

If you are using any technology in your presentation and discussion, try to arrive early and check your tools. Nothing is worse than a projector not functioning if you are already nervous about presenting in front of other.

Always have a back up plan in place in case your technology fails. You may have checked the projector yesterday, but today it isn't working. Or your computer froze. Or the wifi is down. Have you considered what you will do if your technology doesn't work?

It is good to have handwritten or printed notes. Having text on paper provides a backup. It also forces you to look away from your computer/ devices and remind you to make eye contact with the other people in the room.

Powerpoints or Similar Programs

I'm a fan of using Powerpoints or related software. Our world is full of different kinds of learners and I try to engage my students with as many forms of stimuli that I can. I like to mix audio, visual, and more. 

That being said, there are good and bad ways to utilize these kinds of programs. 

Use text pragmatically. My students know I have the bad habit of throwing entire paragraphs on a slide. No one needs to see that. I justify it by only reading parts I put in bold and tell the students that the powerpoints that I make freely available to them through the course website act as a set of notes for them to reference. This much text on a slide still makes for a visually unappealing presentation that can serve to distract students rather than engage them.

Test your links in advance. If you are linking to a Youtube video or audio file that you have embedded within your powerpoint, make sure the links actually work. This is especially important if you are re-using an older powerpoint show. Queue your links up in your browser in advance if possible.

Visuals and Engaging Other Sense

It’s good to make Powerpoints visually appealing to bring content to life. However, you may want to consider using other kinds of visuals as well.

With food history, you have a treasure trove of images from which to choose! Consider showing images of food, advertisements, videos of the process of cooking the food, cookbooks, and more!

You can even bring physical cookbooks, food, and recipes to class. I recommend engaging not only the visual but tactile.

Is it possible for your class to cook together? Or share food together? Think about how to make activities like this financially and physically accessible. 

My courses integrate food and environmental history, but key to these discussions are issues of sexism, racism, classism, ableism, and more. I identify as a queer/bi, white, middle class, immigrant, able-bodied, anglophone cis-woman. I do not want to be in the position of speaking for others, nor do I want to burden oppressed communities with the responsibility of having to educate others about their oppression. As a result, I play videos, audio-clips, and share readings by scholars, activists, makers, and artists from different identity backgrounds to bring forward a diversity of voices. I encourage you to consider implementing this process as well.

It is important to think thoughtfully about whether or not you will share violent images. Think thoughtfully about why you are choosing to show certain kinds of media. What is the goal of showing these images/ this media. Explain the decision to your students. If you are talking about violence/ harm, think about whose images/ voices you are putting at the forefront. 

Trigger Warnings and Handling Violent Content
This topic goes beyond just giving a trigger warning, but I also encourage you to think thoughtfully about when and how you choose to share triggering content. To be clear, I am not saying that we can never discuss violent materials in classes-- far from it. Violence is an important topic as it affects so many of our lives. The historical legacies and ongoing continued practices of colonialism, slavery, sexual violence, domestic violence, warfare, and more need to be discussed. Keep in mind the differences between analytical discussion and voyeurism. Trigger warnings are useful tools but also think about the ways you approach these topics as well. 

It’s possible to share resources for people to look at in their own time that can be triggering because it’s also hard for people to leave the room (even if you indicated that you understand students may need to leave the room to take care of themselves).

Look at the reactions of the people listening and consider if it is good idea to stop showing the images/media and just discuss/unpack the material.

How can an advertisement like this allow us to talk about power structures?
Violence? And oppression? (Rare and Manuscript Collections - Cornell University)

Land Acknowledgements

Inspired by the 94 recommended calls to action contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (now known as the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, or NCTR), land acknowledgements recognize the traditional First Nations, Métis and/or Inuit territories of a place. As indigenous writer Selena Mills explains, although there is debate within indigenous communities about the efficacy of land acknowledgements, they are important because they "recognize how systemic and institutional systems of power have oppressed Indigenous peoples, and how that oppression has historically influenced the way non-Indigenous people perceive and interact with Indigenous peoples." In order to learn more about land/territory acknowledgements, read the work of Selena Mills and check out Native-Land.ca to learn more about the land your classroom is on.

Look forward to the upcoming post, Part II: Leading the Discussion! Feel free to share in the comments other ideas you have about preparing discussions on food history!