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The Early History of Pasta: Post-Modern Myth and Medieval Reality

Pasta, now a near-ubiquitous food throughout the world, has achieved global status after a long, complex history involving multiple points of origin and several periods of rapid expansion of its popularity. In the West, one such period occurred in the late Middle Ages in the western Mediterranean. Given the paucity of early evidence for pasta consumption, many questions arise concerning where this food first became important in local diets and exactly who diffused it. Although the popular myth that Marco Polo brought noodles to Italy from China has been debunked, recent scholarship invoking linguistic evidence as support has asserted that Arabs played the central role in this development. In particular, most of the earliest attested names for forms of pasta—lasagna, fideos/fidei, maccherone—have all been claimed to be of Arab origin. In this talk, Anthony F. Buccini demonstrates that the interpretation of the evidence has been superficial and gravely flawed, and he proposes an account of the late medieval diffusion of pasta based on a new interpretation of the textual and linguistic evidence in full harmony with the broader socio-economic history of the medieval western Mediterranean.

Anthony Buccini received his undergraduate education at Columbia University in New York and earned his Ph.D. at Cornell University. He also studied and later conducted research as a Fulbright Scholar at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. He has published and taught extensively in his primary fields of historical linguistics and sociolinguistics, especially in connection with the Germanic, Romance, and Celtic languages. He recently contributed the chapter on linguistics to the Routledge International Handbook of Food Studies (forthcoming, August 2012) and is currently working on a monograph, From Green to Gold, on the history of Mediterranean foodways with particular reference to the history of olive oil (to be published by Columbia University Press).
Dr. Buccini’s talk will be based in part on his recent papers “The Etymology of fidê/fideus and Its Historical Context” (presented at the ASFS Global Gateways Conference, New York, June 2012) and “Lasagna: A Layered History” (presented at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, Oxford, July 2012).
This program is hosted by the Chicago Foodways Roundtable. To reserve seats, email or call 847-432-8255, leaving your name, telephone number, and the number of people in your party.

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