Linnaeus, Heisenberg, and Cereal Studies

Wherein the author, Dave Frye, finds in his doctoral research that "it remains fairly safe to say that the modern science of cereal studies began no earlier than with the 1764 publication of Linnaeus's De Cerialibus." This, despite some early finds about "the famously lactose-intolerant Pythagoreans."

There are some good findings in Frye's work, and one wonders how long it might be until his research is complete. I was particularly struck by the solid integration of the history of science and food studies into true, deeper cultural and political context. Many graduate students seek that elusive holy grail of "context," but more than not they end up simply using the word without any legitimate referent. This doesn't seem to be the case with Frye. I applaud him and his advisers for it.

For instance, he finds that Franklin's "oft-quoted maxim 'To stay strong and in the pink, break your fast on foods that sink' is but one of hundreds of pithy aphorisms he created during the American Revolution while lobbying the French government on behalf of Kellogg's." I know Joyce Chaplin has written a good deal about Franklin, 18th century politics, and science, but I don't recall that she was able to make the connection Frye has here. This is the result of strong archival and cereal aisle work, no doubt.

And yet another fascinating insight is a product of the very ambition of Frye's project. Thus, in a work that moves past Pythagoras to land in the early modern period, before then setting Linnaeun cereal studies into its own place on the way to post-Franklinian work, he also brings us well into the 20th century and through today. It's startling in scope, but plausible and persuasive.

Thus, by looking to Heisenberg's "so-called Rice Krispies paradox," we find at last a contemporary scholar not afraid of the longue duree. I know some scholars at McMaster worry over the longue duree; they speak of it often. Maybe this new study will shine the light on future possibilities for more work in the same vein.

In any case, the full report can be found here, "From My Unfinished Doctoral Dissertation on Breakfast Cereals." Although I am not one to poach on graduate students' work, I would offer this blog space as a site to house further comments and to host new archival findings.

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You might applaud him and his advisers for it, but I doubt he'll find a decent press for the thing. Making too many enemies, me thinks. Grad students do better to keep it humble. That's why so little about this long duree.

Make sure you put those nutjobs Graham, Kellogg, and Post in there. They must be part of the Granola Revisionist movement, eh? I saw The Road to Wellville a long time ago and that showed what's what.

By Matthew McClain (not verified) on 05 Mar 2009 #permalink