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Name: Rachel Small

PhD: Archaeology

Thesis Title: 

Food, identity and humoral theory in early modern England: a case study from Leicestershire

Thesis Description:

Archaeological studies of food have generally taken an isolationist approach considering animal and plant remains seperately and most have failed to integrate written sources fully into their discussion. Furthermore, interpretations have tended to focus on the economics of production (e.g. an increase in the consumption of calves can be explained by a rise in dairy production) or on identifying aspects of dietary identity (most commonly social status). A major omission in current scholarship is consideration of humoral theory as a framework that guided contemporary attitudes to diet and good health. This was particularly true for the early modern period (c. 1450 – 1800) when it was believed that the body contained four humors (yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm) and good health lay in their balance. All foods had a particular humoral structure and when consumed affected the individual’s body. Correct diet achieved humoral balance and so determined good health. This research will use a case-study of an early modern aristocratic household — Bradgate House, Leicestershire, home of the Grey family. As wealthy, literate individuals, at the forefront of cultural change (Bradgate House was one of the first English brick built houses) they were likely to have been familiar with fashionable dietary advice. In this study archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological evidence from the Bradgate House excavations will be quantitatively integrated and reviewed together with the extant household accounts; dietary evidence will be contextualised through regional and national site comparison. Drawing on primary documentary sources this study will answer the research question ‘how did humoral theory influence consumption behaviour and the construction and negotiation of group identities in early modern England?’

Supervisors and Institution(s): 

  • Dr Richard Thomas (University of Leicester)
  • Dr Alexandra Livarda (University of Nottingham)
  • Dr Richard Jones (University of Leicester)