Fourth international Convention on Food History and Food Studies – IEHCA – Tours 7-8 June 2018

Fourth international Convention on Food History and Food Studies

IEHCA CONVENTION- Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation

7-8 June 2018

Medieval Cookery Recipes and Digital Humanities Approach : the French/Austrian CoReMA project


“There is something fascinating and moving about old historic recipes:

they are an intimate link with the past, revealing the sensuous quality,

the tastes and smells and feel of worlds gone by”

(Claudia Roden, Medieval Arab Cookery, 2006, p. 11)


  1. Bruno Laurioux and Helmut W. Klug : Introduction

Cooking traditions, local and continental, are one of the most recognizable items of European culture, and a large part of European identities. But how did they get to be what they are? How did they evolve, what were their influences? During the last decades, research arrived at two important conclusions on these issues. First, there are no quantitative studies on the origin and formation of regional cuisines in Europe. Second, substantial evidence, namely manuscripts containing thousands of cookery recipes, first appears in the Middle Ages, which can be thus regarded as the birth of modern European cuisines. On the European continent Latin, Middle French and Early New High German recipes provide the majority of culinary transmission. Since the 1960s scholars attempt to provide overviews of the different regional cuisines based on historical evidence but since then no one tried to comprehensively include the transmission of culinary recipes into this research. Time, money and effort would have been very high. Today we have access to edited cooking recipe collections and manuscripts as digital images, and digital humanities research methods, which greatly helps to facilitate analysis of a comprehensive corpus of historical recipes.

This project aims at realizing this long dreamed-of goal and even putting an interdisciplinary focus on the cross-cultural research of medieval cooking recipes and their interrelation. The project will prepare the cooking recipe transmission of France and the German speaking countries, which includes more than 80 manuscripts and ca. 8000 recipes, for the analysis of their origin, their relation, and their migration through Europe.

The partners from Laboratoire CESR (Centre d’Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance, UMR 7323), at the University of Tours-CNRS and the Zentrum für Informationsmodellierung – Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities and the Department of Medieval German Studies at the University of Graz provide the expertise to collect manuscripts and recipes, to edit them according to scholarly and digital standards, and to analyze these multilingual texts following up-to-date quantitative and qualitative research methodology. For machine aided analysis the recipe corpus and its metadata are edited and modelled according to international standards using TEI-XML, semantic web technologies and a research infrastructure that is laid out for digital preservation of research assets. All recipes are enriched through ontologies for ingredients, cooking processes, and food historically relevant data (e.g. on religious, cultural, or medical aspects). Within and across languages the project’s analysis will reveal concurring or deviating eating habits, which have built European identities and heritage, text migration as well as the influence of neighboring countries on their respective cuisine. The research data will be the basis for spatial and temporal visualization and statistical evaluation, which will foster new approaches towards interpretation of the historical and cultural assets.

The research of the CoReMA project will not only provide a generic model for the integration of further language collections into the research infrastructure but also add to the curricula of the respective disciplines medieval and early modern history, food history, and digital humanities. The project team will also develop public dissemination strategies to foster the awareness of food history and eating habits.



  1. Helmut W. Klug: Heritage and research of German medieval cookery texts

The German heritage of medieval written cooking recipes comprises 57 recipe collections that hold about 5000 recipes, the main area of tradition is the southern / Bavarian language area. Recipe tradition starts at about 1350 and has its peak in the middle and late 15th century. This number of recipes of course includes copies and duplicates. But within this Early New High German corpus of cooking recipes there are only two identical collections (München, Universitätsbibliothek, 2° Cod. ms. 731 – the so called buoch von guoter spîse – and its direct copy Dessau, Anhaltische Landesbücherei, Hs. Georg. 278.2°) as well as identical recipe groups with only moderate variation handed down in various manuscripts. All in all the transmission hints at least at some kind of continuous cooking tradition that is carried on into Early modern period and the first printed cooking recipe collections.

The research of Early New High German cooking recipes started albeit very reluctantly in the high time of German medieval philology with a strict focus on word studies as the genre was not exactly well respected. Until the 1980ies only sporadic effort was made to edit and research German culinary heritage. This changed with the groundbreaking studies of Trude Ehlert, who brought culinary texts into German philology and finally made their research acceptable. The main fields of study centered on the editing of the texts and were accompanied by research into text family traditions and parallel transmission of texts. Culinary background and tradition were only dealt with marginally in commentary and glossary work accompanying the text editions.

The presentation will describe the German culinary heritage in general. It will outline the development of German culinary research, characterize the main areas of research in detail and highlight it with select examples linking it back to the manuscript heritage.


  1. Corentin Poirier: Writing the cookery in latin from 12th to 15th century

Recent discoveries of unedited manuscripts in England and Germany have overturned what we thought to be established about the medieval cookbooks. These new manuscripts show that written material about cookery has begun to be produced as soon as the 12th century (and not at the begining of the 14th century) and that it was done widely in Latin (and not only in vernacular languages). Because of these characteristics, as well as the material and textual organization of codices, we can suppose that, besides the writing of the professionnal knowledge of cooks, there was a scholarly tradition of written cookery. The links of this tradition first with Ancient Cookery, second with the new greek-arab medical literature, and third with the practical lexicography beginning in the 12th century, need to be clarified. Briefly, The renaissance of a written cookery needs to be replaced un the more general frame of the ‘Renaissance of 12th century’.

To achieve this task, we need to include give critical editions of manuscripts recently discovered and not yet transcribed. Their text has to be replaced, thanks to a thorough philological analysis, in textual traditions. One particular attention must be brought to the codicology of codices and to the intellectual context of their production. Of course, the culinary content of these early texts should be studied. These cookbooks can be considered as the ‘foundation stone’ of the European Culinary Heritage whose constitution and building raise today great interest of European people and institutions.



  1. Christian Steiner: Digital Humanities methods to further research of (historical) cooking recipes: an overview.

With the help of digital methods, humanities research not only has the possibility to present their data and research findings in a different way but it also has access to a whole new range of research questions. For the CoReMa project the following areas of methodology are of main importance: digital edition and enrichment, Semantic Web, computer aided data analysis and visualization as well as open access principles.

Digital editions are advantageous in that they provide a more flexible means of cataloguing historical texts and offer better accessibility both for reception and analysis than the print medium ever could. This creates the basis for a large number of derivatives. In addition to the (printed) reading text these can be text­image relation, variations in text representation, text­genetic documentation, presentation and analysis, or the evaluations and visualizations of the text data and of data the texts have been enriched with. Enrichment is the annotation of historical sources with critically tested and normalized research data to prepare them as well as the annotations for domain specific research and analysis methods. If the core requirements of knowledge representation for Semantic Web resources are applied during this process, the data can be queried in more complex ways than simple databases could be, going as far as semantic text analysis. The data and the means of analysis prepare for the visualization of, for example, statistical relations, ways of migration, stages of text development etc. The semantic enrichment is also the basis to add the project resources (on an open access policy) to the vast universe of Linked Open Data, which then again has the potential to multiply the data value.

The presentation will discuss these Digital Humanities methods and highlight their potential with practical examples as well as tie it to culinary research.



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