Course Readings/Assignments

Fred Gibbs Discussion

Hey folks,

As many of us have recently revisited/revitalized/revised courses for this fall semester, the H-Nutrition editors are hoping to start an exchange of ideas about key sources to help students understand the history of nutrition, diet, and health.

As a complement to our always intriguing source-of-the-month, we're hoping to engage the network to gather suggestions for assignments and primary and/or secondary sources that have worked well with your students. These can be obscure sources that no one has heard of, well-known sources that you have developed fun assignments around, or pairs of readings that resonate well together.

Naturally, readings and assignments can be very personal and course specific, but it seems useful to pool our network's collective teaching experience. Of course we're also always excited to learn about entire syllabi if you're willing to share, but we thought sharing a smaller bit of a course might be more approachable and potentially even more useful for the wide variety of stuff that we do.

I'll start!

One exercise that my students have really enjoyed in a history of diet and health course (with a emphasis on dietary expertise) is reading selections from Steven Shapin's article "Trusting George Cheyne" (, and then immediately following that by reading parts of Cheyne's text that the article centers on, An Essay on Regimen ( The pair has been very successful because students have found it revealing to read a historian's synopsis of a text and then compare it to the (much more difficult) original. It's been an effective way for students learn how much deciphering and interpretation goes into any seemingly straightforward description of a text. I've tried reading the original first, but having the guidance of a secondary source (and the fact it draws so robustly from the original) made Cheyne's text more intelligible and allows a deeper discussion beyond just trying to parse the fundamentals. Furthermore, students love to see how techniques for establishing authority to give dietary advice haven't changed much in 300 years! Because the original is both familiar and foreign, it's always a lively class discussion.

I hope you'll write in with your own favorite reading or exercise!

Happy autumn,

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What a great resource! I will look into this. Thanks for the suggestion and for starting this thread!

I like to assign selections from Physical Beauty: How to Keep It (1918) by the Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman and Diet and Health with Key to the Calories by Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters (1918) to show how, even at the same time, there were very different approaches to diet, health, nutrition, beauty, physical culture, and so on. Both are readable, funny, and relatively light for primary sources. As a bonus, both are also very affordable in their original so I pass around the physical copies in class.

Thanks and I look forward to reading these exercises.