Am I souring on traditional discipline-focused college curricula? No, but this spring I *am* teaching a tremendously fun course through COLT on literature, food and society (as discussed here), and I’m also part of an innovative team-taught course that partners the Natural Sciences with the Humanities, all in the name of a loaf of bread.
Yes, University of Oregon HC441: “Bread 101” investigates the science and culture of bread!
We’re all souring together as we create experiments with sourdough starters and bake bread based on historic recipes. These “lab” activities will be contextualized in lectures and readings on topics like genetics, energetics, microbiology, history, ethics, and cultural studies. We’ll be hosting University of Washington wheat geneticist and anti-GMO activist, Dr. Steve Jones, as a visiting speaker; visiting Camas Country Mill and Noisette bakery for a sourdough taste-off; learning about Willamette Valley wheat production with local food activist Dan Armstrong; and studying primary sources on bread baking and propaganda in an upcoming exhibit on historic cookbooks, “Recipe: The Kitchen and Laboratory: 1400-2000,” opening April 22 in Knight Library Special Collections. (I’m co-curating this with HC Prof. and Historian of Science Vera Keller — more info soon.)
The course is unusual not only because it’s deeply local and geared to increase burgeoning interest in a Food Studies program at UO, but also because of its innovative curriculum that uses Humanities-based lines of inquiry and writing assignments to augment science literacy. Many Food Studies classes are taught from a Social Science or Nutrition perspective by a single instructor, so we felt the course could model new approaches for systemic collaboration across the Sci/Hum divide and offer value to this emerging discipline.
The course is being taught by Judith Eisen (Biology, Institute of Neuroscience, and Director of the Science Literacy Program), Elly Vandegrift (Biology and Associate Director of the SLP), Karen Guillemin (Biology and Director of the Microbial Ecology and Theory of Animals Center for Systems Biology), Miriam Deutsch (Physics and Oregon Center for Optics), and yours truly, Jennifer Burns Bright (Comparative Literature and English).
HC441H: Bread 101
Bright, Eisen, Deutsch, Guillemin, Vandegrift
Bread is a complex medium, looking nothing like the original seed of grain from which it originates. Yet when we mix a few simple ingredients we are able to induce a transformation that results in an edible, highly nourishing, staple food product crucial for sustenance in many cultures. In “Bread 101”, students will explore with a team of faculty from the sciences and humanities the energy requirements, biomedical and biochemical aspects, and local and sociopolitical context of bread production. Students will read and discuss a variety of primary and secondary literature related to wheat production, the microbiological, chemical, and physical processes that transform wheat into bread, the energy cost of this transformation, and cultural implications of bread production. There will be several field trips and guest speakers. Course work will include active discussions, short essays, problem sets, and a presentation.
Module 1 Introduction to Growth, Domestication, Energetics
Module 2 Local Politics of Wheat and Bread
Module 3 Biomedical and Biochemical Implications
Module 4 Social and Cultural History of Wheat and Bread
Module 5 Global Energy Production Related to Wheat and Bread
Photos: My sourdough starter in progress, local grain display at Camas Country Mill, white board exercises on energetics and photosynthesis (with guest Nick Routledge), and a 1937 advertisement for Fleischmann’s yeast cakes (eat two a day for optimal health!).