Did you know that the Draytons preferred to entertain with Madeira wine? And that popular southern dishes like gumbo were brought to the New World by West African slaves? How have economics, technology, and social movements changed our tastes? These fascinating aspects of American food traditions will be presented by Dr. Libby H. O’Connell on March 26 as part of the Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series.
O’Connell’s presentation, “From the Charleston Table to the American Plate: Looking at Foodways, South and North,” will draw from her recently published book The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites. In this book, O’Connell writes about American history from the perspective of its food traditions. She investigates not just the recipes themselves, but where they came from and who made them. She examines America’s foodways as a legitimate source of historical evidence and, at the same time, shows how foodways were shaped by the changing context of economics, politics, and culture. A gifted writer and storyteller, she encourages us to imagine visiting a foreign country and seeking to understand its people. To do so, we would visit their museums, walk the streets, and definitely eat their food because that, she explains, is “one of the best and often most surprising ways to learn about a different place.” She continues, “In some respects, the past is another country as well. It has flavors of its own…like time travelers, we can see what life was like for our predecessors by conjuring up the techniques, textures, smells, and tastes of America.”
In her presentation on March 26, O’Connell will examine the interrelationships between Charleston and American cuisine, while highlighting their changes over time. To illustrate her message, she will utilize historical recipes and images from around the country, including materials from Drayton Hall’s archives. O’Connell has a strong affinity for Drayton Hall, as she secured support from HISTORY to produce the award-winning interactive DVD tour of Drayton Hall’s landscape, The Voices of Drayton Hall, and served as its executive producer. “Libby O’Connell is a remarkable historian who has done much to try and shape the way history is appreciated and understood in America,” said Executive Director George W. McDaniel. “By serving as Chief Historian for HISTORY, she has contributed a range of informative and inspiring programs that have touched Americans of all ages.”
O’Connell is an Emmy-award winning producer, preservationist, and cultural historian. She serves as the Chief Historian for HISTORY and Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for A+E Networks, overseeing corporate and educational outreach for networks including HISTORY, A&E, H2, and FYI. She is also the executive-producer of on-site films for organizations such as the Smithsonian, Ellis Island, and Gettysburg. She has received three EMMYS for her work in television, and appears on national TV as a guest commentator. Dr. O’Connell received her M.A. and Ph.D. in American history from the University of Virginia. She serves on the boards of several organizations, including the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, National History Day, as well as being a White House appointed commissioner with the United States World War I Centennial Commission.
The Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series is held on Thursday nights at South Carolina Society Hall, 72 Meeting Street. Doors open at 5:30 pm with a wine and cheese reception, with presentations starting promptly at 6:30 pm. Presented by the Friends of Drayton Hall, admission is free and no advance reservations are necessary. Seating is limited. The 2015 Distinguished Speakers Series is sponsored by Richard and Jill Almeida, the Francis Marion Hotel, and the Chipstone Foundation. For other questions and sponsorship inquiries please contact Tara White, development events coordinator, at 843-769-2627 or firstname.lastname@example.org.