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Tel:  +44 20 7679 8638

E-mail: valerie.mars@googlemail.com

PhD University of Leicester 1997
Dept. of History

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Research Interests and Current Work

My work as a social historian is anthropologically informed and my particular interest is in the social contexts of food preparation, food-taking, space and objects. An interest in classification follows experiences gained while working in a ‘top end’ antique shop in London dealing in18th and 19th century furniture, as a fabric buyer for a Sloane St interior decorator and as an active collector of artefacts from bric-a-brac to 18th and 19th century antiques.

Currently I am researching, with Gerald Mars, on a Nuffield Foundation small grant pilot study ‘Interactions, Interconnections and Change in the Antiques, Car Boot Sale and Collectables Trades with Special Reference to Income Provision and the Enhancement of Social Wellbeing among the Retired and Over fifties Unemployed’.

PhD thesis: University of Leicester 1997, Dept of History, Ordering Dinner: Victorian Celebratory Domestic Dining in London, followed by a contract with Yale University Press for a book based on this work. The work charts the social changes in nineteenth-century upper middle class dining, with the application of Douglasian Cultural Theory in which dining is treated as an exclusive social event examined in its cultural and spatial context.

Related Work

Over the past thirty years I have worked with Gerald Mars on a variety of fieldwork based projects in Israel Italy and the UK.

In 1988, I was a joint founder of the London Food Seminar, a group of 15 scholars mostly Ph.D. candidates and post-PhDs in history, classics and anthropology, who met regularly to give papers every six weeks during the academic year. A book of our joint papers was published in 1993. The seminar ceased in 1994.

In 1989 I was originator and convenor of ‘The Jewish Food Symposium on Food and Culinary Identity in Religion and History’, at Yarnton Manor, the Postgraduate Centre for Jewish Studies of Oxford University.

From 1989/90 I have been the principal ethnographer to a household research project funded firstly by a Unilever plc and then by the Nuffield Foundation on understanding of household consumer behaviour and domestic organisation. A book is currently in preparation jointly with Gerald Mars.


‘Why Don’t the English... A comparison of the differences between English, French and Italian Cuisine’, in Hospitality, The Journal of the H.C.I.M.A., No. 19, July 1981

‘Spaghetti but not on Toast! Italian food in London’, in Proceedings of the Oxford Food Symposium 1983: Food in Motion: the Migration of Foodstuff and Cookery Techniques, Prospect Books, 1983

‘Classifying Cuisines: Epicures, Isolates, Messmates and Cultists’ in Proceedings of Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1984 & 1985, Cookery: Science, Lore and Books, Prospect Books Ltd, London, 1986, pp.118-25 (with Gerald Mars).

‘Classifying Cooking Oils: The Boundaries between Epicures, Isolates, Messmates and Cultists’, in Proceedings of the Oxford Food Symposium 1986: The Cooking Medium, Prospect Books, 1987

‘Cracking the Airline Food Code: How a New Cuisine has Arisen from the Old’, 1st International Food Symposium, Konya, Turkey, 1986, Proceedings published 1988, ed. T. Halici, Ankara (with Gerald Mars)

‘Taste and Etiquette in the Victorian Household’, in Proceedings of the Oxford Food Symposium 1987: Taste, Prospect Books, 1988 (with Gerald Mars)

‘Some Reasons why there was a Change from Service à la Française to Service à la Russe in Nineteenth Century England’, 2nd International Food Symposium, Istanbul, 1988

‘The Household – An Anthropological Perspective’, Study Report, vols. I and II for Unilever Plc, London, 1988, (with Gerald Mars)

Food Culture and History, Proceedings of the London Food Seminar I, London Food Seminar, ed. Gerald Mars and Valerie Mars, 1993.

‘Parsimony amid Plenty: the Victorian Nursery Child’s Diet’, in Food History and Culture, as above

‘Two Contrasting Dining Styles, Suburban Conformity and Urban Individualism’, in Food, Culture and History, (with Gerald Mars), as above.

‘Kitsch Culinary Icons: The Cultural Roots of Changes in Nineteenth-Century Dinner Cuisine’, in Look and Feel, Studies in Texture Appearance and Incidental Characteristics of Food, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1993, Prospect Books, Blackawton, Totnes, Devon.

‘À la Russe’: a New Way of Dining’, in Luncheon, Nuncheon and Other Meals, Eating with the Victorians, C. Anne Wilson, editor, Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, Far Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1994.

‘Much Pleasure and Profit, Hannah M. Young (1858-1949), Culinary Entrepreneur’, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1996, Proceedings, Cooks and Other People, Prospect Books, Blackawton, Totnes, Devon.

‘Little Fish and Large Appetites: Victorian Whitebait Dinners at Blackwall, Gravesend and Greenwich’, for the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, July 1997, Fish, Food from the Waters, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1998, Prospect Books, Blackawton, Totnes, Devon.

‘Die Angelsächsische Einstellung zu Küche und Spiesezimmer’ [‘Dining Room and Kitchen: Some Anglo-Saxon Attitudes From 1745’], in Die Kutch. Zur Geschichte eines architektonischen, sozialen und imaginativen Raums, eds: Herbert Lachmayer, Elfie Miklautz, Riehard Eisendle, Vienna,1997 .

‘Tokens of Affinity: Blackpool Souvenirs’ in Souvenirs: the material culture of tourism, (with Gerald Mars), Edited by Michael Hitchcock, Ken Teague, Ashgate, Aldershot, Hants, 2000.

‘Food History and the Death of Memory’ (with Gerald Mars) in Food and the Memory, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2000, Prospect Books, Blackawton, Totnes, Devon 2001

'Beyond Beeton: some 19th-Century Cookery and Household Books in the Brotherton Library', (Given at Books for Cooks, Leeds Symposium on Food and History) published in The English Cookery Book Historical Essays, Ed. Eileen White Prospect Books, Blackawton, Totnes, Devon 2001

‘Fat in the Victorian Kitchen: a medium for cooking , control, deviance, and crime’, with Gerald Mars in The Fat of the Land: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2002, Edited by Harlan Walker, Footwork, Bristol, 2003.

This paper was awarded an additional Sophie Coe prize in 2002

‘Doing it Wrong: Why Bother to do Imperfect Research?’ (with Gerald Mars) in Researching Food Habits, Methods and Problems, edited by Helen Macbeth & Jeremy MacClancy, Berghahn Books, New York & Oxford, 2004.

‘Nineteenth Century Food Historians: did they search for authenticity or use the past to embellish their present?’ Given at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005, in Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005: Authenticity in the Kitchen, Edited by Richard Hoskin, Prospect Books, Totnes, 2006.

Conference Papers and Museum Presentations

1997 ‘Henry Cole as Himself and as Felix Summerly 1808-1882: two culinary reformers,’ paper given at the Royal Society of Arts for the Society’s History Study Group. ‘Food and the Empire: Importing ‘Plenty’ A paper given at The Society’s History Study Group’s Annual Historical Symposium, The Influence of Empire on Great Britain 1837-1901, 24th October, 1997

1998-99 Consultancy for the Museum of London for their exhibition London on a Plate including a lunchtime lecture during the exhibition: ‘Thameside Whitebait Dinners.’

2004 - Ongoing Advisor/Consultant to Sambourne House Museum, Kensington on Victorian Meals and related artefacts and as program planner for three seminar days on Food, Domesticity and Dining in Victorian London, at Leighton House Museum during 2007.