DIY Feminist Archive: Writing in the Cookbook’s Endpapers #FemRhet2019

cookbook our home cyclopedia with handwritten notes on endpaper

I was recently invited to present at the upcoming Feminisms and Rhetorics conference (November 2019), so I figured I would share with you my proposal (unedited, although I received some fantastic feedback for improvement from the anonymous reviewers). I am excited, both for the conference which I’ve been told is outstanding and because this odd little project is one very close to my heart. I’ve lately been exploring an obsession with paratextual material, inspired long ago during a Renaissance drama class (shoutout #700R!). While this particular presentation looks at marginalia as its own form of paratext, it is absolutely an extension of the early work, and just goes to show how often seemingly disparate areas of study weave themselves into contemporary projects.


This presentation examines the marginalia and ephemera of cookbooks, published between 1870-1920, housed in the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University. By attending to the minutiae of these voices, I suggest the marginalia writers are feminist archivists themselves, using the cookbook’s endpapers to write their own herstories. By rejecting the pre-formatted spaces for writing within the cookbooks and in conjunction with the lessons about economy and household management included by the cookbook’s authors, these writers were creating spaces for their own intellectual practice, and in doing so were also working, consciously or not, to protect and archive their intellectual property.


While paging through the 400-plus cookbooks housed in the Browne Popular Culture Library, I heard voices. Every time I opened a new volume, I found a different voice, a different set of handwritten notes and ephemera. I found a different history, one that was often at odds with the published advice of the cookbook’s author. While the printed recipes were rarely different from each other, the marginalia turned each book into a record of a life, and a record of the activities of women who were responsible for taking care of other lives. This presentation will bring those voices to light by close attention to their marginalia and ephemera, in effect seeing the cookbook as feminist archive. Women wrote—and wrote a lot—sometimes filling the endpapers with so much writing that they were squeezing their words along the edges of the page. Instead of filling out the many blank spaces intentionally included in the middle of the books to collect recipes, these women authors make use of the endpapers, often extensively and exhaustively, to write. I theorize that this writing stems from a desire to claim their authorship by rejecting the preformatted places in favor of their own blank page. These writers have hacked their cookbook, turning it into a repository for their own creative endeavors, and in doing so have created their own feminist archives.

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