Gastronomic Alchemy: How Black Philadelphia Caterers Transformed Taste into Capital, 1790-1925


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


American Studies and African American Studies


This project traces the development of the black catering industry in Philadelphia from its beginnings in the early republic through its mid-nineteenth-century heyday, and into a transitional period at the turn of the twentieth century. The men and women who entered the catering trade transformed a line of domestic service into a thriving domestic business. They devised strategies to create multiple forms of capital as they shaped the contours of eating culture. Studying the lives of these entrepreneurs through sources such as recipes, bank records, photographs, and censuses, as well as material and print culture, reveals a legacy that extends beyond foodways. This project, by informing discourses around everyday life and resistance, race, gender, class, and community formation, ultimately examines how African American people have fought for self-determination in every area of their lives.