Reading Menus

Class Links







Menu from 1857 Click for Larger Image

Credits1 Library of Congress American Memory, Duke University Advertising Collection c. 1857

Arguably, American norms, values and attitudes are revealed through our food choices and the menu is one useful lens we can use to interrogate the past. Menus are inherently multivariate and do useful work for many disciplines beyond history, however, this site serves as a forum for the development of analytical tools and questions that will help scholars develop a framework for moving the menu forward as an essential and significant part of popular culture. While menus tell us much about a place, time, business model or intended audience, they need not be tied to individual experiences; they also serve as a tool or tools for answering broad or aggregate questions.

Menus can be read as part of visual culture and many are highly decorated and embellished and it is sometimes difficult to know if they are true or artificial reflections of the dining experience. It is important to note that menus are not the exclusive to restaurants and many of our extant samples come from roasts, celebrations, or other occasions of note as well as journals or diaries, thus even the definition of what is a menu can be contested. By far the most common and frequent occurrence of a menu is related to giving the diner a choice of options in a food service setting. Among the high level questions we might ask are: