Confession: after almost a year of my MA in Public History, I still struggle to give a confident answer when asked, ‘What is public history?’. While attempting to explain, people usually look on with an expression that reads: ‘Why couldn’t you just be studying biology?’
While I may not be able to give a concise, crowd-pleasing definition for public history, I’m much happier talking about the history project that has been dominating my life these last few summer months.
‘Suffrage Eats: Vegetarian recipes from a suffragist kitchen’. It’s a four-part series of online cookery videos, recreating recipes from genuine Victorian and Edwardian vegetarian cookbooks. The purpose is to highlight the little-known fact that many of the awesome individuals who fought for women’s voting rights were also keen vegetarians.
As everyone everywhere has likely noticed, the women’s suffrage movement has been getting a lot of coverage recently. While that may be down to the fact that Meryl Streep graced cinema screens as Emmeline Pankhurst in 2015’s Suffragette, it’s also importantly because 100 years ago, in 1918, the first British women were granted the right to vote.
The revolutionary Representation of the People Act granted women over 30, with particular land qualifications, voting rights. (Misogyny Moment: This is also the act that finally gave all men over 21, regardless of land ownership, the right to vote.
#NotAllMen). It wasn’t until 1928, with the Equal Franchise Act, that women were granted equal voting rights to men.
While I tend to steer clear of political history – or anything that requires memorising endless acts and dates – I’m a real nerd for social history and am always hungry for some food history (pun definitely intended). The vague notion that vegetarianism was popular with Suffragettes and Suffragists had been lodged in a corner of my mind for a while and my MA offered the perfect opportunity to explore it; to see whether it was true or a load of baloney (food pun #2).
Fortunately, turns out it’s absolutely true. Good thing too because, honestly, once I had the title ‘Suffrage Eats’ I was determined to create a project around it. All good MA dissertations start with a catchy headline, right?
The main course is the series of online cookery videos (food pun #3). There’s also a blog on the site, giving some extra fun historical info on vegetarianism and the movement, as well as Twitter and Instagram accounts. The Instagram has some fun behind the scenes footage, meanwhile I thought it’d be a fun idea to start Tweeting from the perspective of an Edwardian Suffragette so – yep – check that out.
After many dedicated months I am somewhat proud of the project, especially considering it’s my first foray into filming and editing, so am finding any excuse to invite people to check it out, (even through my own blog!).
Take a gander, get in touch on Twitter and maybe make your own Suffrage Eats dish (or two?).