Friday, July 4, 2008

Modern Tools for Medieval Cooking Research

During the medieval period, the only way to learn about medieval cooking was to spend time in the kitchen, and maybe read one of the few existing cookbooks (that is, if you're lucky enough to have one, and can read as well). I'm about 500 years too late to do this.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the only option was to go to places like the British Library and read old books. If you couldn't travel then you were pretty much out of luck.

With the advent of the Internet though, research has become immensely easier. Aside from the fact that there are a whole slew of medieval cookbooks available online for free, there are other online tools that I've found to be very useful. Here are a few of them, in no particular order.

Online Dictionaries
Greg Lindahl has put copies of Cotgrave's 1611 French/English Dictionary and Florio's 1611 Italian/English Dictionary online, and they even have a search feature. I can not even begin to tell you how incredibly useful this was when I started working with Middle French cooking texts. He and Steve Bush obviously put a lot of work into these and have not been thanked enough.

Medieval Cookbook Search
I originally created this searchable index for my own use. I wanted to be able to find recipes in Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books by ingredient, and because of the weird spellings used in the book, regular search engines were useless. It's far from perfect, but until something better comes along it'll do.

Billed as " a reusable non-linear personal web notebook", Tiddlywiki is a strange little program. It's essentially a small, modifiable web site packed into a single file. Right now I'm using it as a sort of storage space for all the things I would normally write down on a piece of paper to remember later and then leave in my pocket to go through the laundry and then be left with a lump of paper and a feeling that I've forgotten something important. I upload the file and keep it where I can get to it from any computer hooked to the Internet (as a bonus, it's completely platform independent). I'm sure there are other uses I haven't thought of yet - it really is a neat little program.

Major Online Text Sources
Aside from the museums and libraries that have one or two useful texts that they've made freely available online, the Internet Archive and Google Books have put an immense number of texts out there for anyone to get to. It can still be pretty hard to find things, but with the enormous volume of books they've got, it's certain there is something in there that you would find useful.

I'll update this list as I think of things.

No comments: