AHRC US-UK Food Digital Scholarship Network

The AHRC US-UK Food Digital Scholarship network+ provides a platform for US and UK cultural institutions, and researchers to network around the topic of food. It will map existing stakeholders, data sets and food research priorities, advise on digitisation standards, run virtual workshops, link to cross-disciplinary UK and US research, and build capacity via pump priming and piloting for future digital scholarship research.

The network-research themes are: 1. Manuscripts 2. Printed literature 3. Other collections.


Food has become an increasingly popular subject of study due to its inherently multidisciplinary nature. Food’s universal pervasiveness allows it to become an accessible window into every culture and time period. The materials and texts concerning food offer a continuous resource that spans thousands of years of human civilisation, with a massive corpus of written manuscripts, printed documents (books, pamphlets, menus), and other material culture and ephemera (including images and sound recordings) available for study. Many cultural institutions have large collections relating to food, some of which, now fully or partially digitised, are accessible to the global research community. However, knowledge of the existence and depth of many of the collections is limited, and there is a lack of communication between cultural institutions, data providers and researchers. Detailed mapping of the network has not been undertaken, and many possible connections have not yet been made.

There is a large existing academic audience for food-related content in the multidisciplinary fields of food studies, gastronomy, anthropology, archaeology, sociology, and nutrition, domestic and medical history. Given opportunity and access, an even wider public audience would engage with historic food texts. In addition, there are multiple food-related programmes of education research running in the UK and US, all of which require access to material and data.

Many global challenges are also directly related to food. The food system is linked to 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, and healthcare costs are increasing due to diet-related issues (60%+ of adults in the UK and US are now Obese or Overweight). Food is also central to many countries' economies (11% of total employment in the US) and cultural heritage.

Addressing these food-related global issues requires an interdisciplinary approach featuring (digital) humanities researchers, and content from cultural institutions, to provide a narrative, context and grounding for research and solutions, to highlight underrepresented voices, and to give greater insight into cultures, traditions and the preservation/ of culinary knowledge.

Until now, coordination and networking between food-related UK and US cultural institutions and researchers has been limited.

Primary objectives

1) Increase the interest in and use of digital scholarship methods, and digital collections in the area of food studies and linked fields in the UK and the US, with a view to forming larger, longer-term collaborations and research projects.

2) A mapping of food digitised collections (current and possible in the future).

3) Harmonisation of food related digital content and metadata, with the aim to link current and future digital collections together. Produce recommendations for community discussion.

Activities (2019-2020)

•Connecting with UK and US community and local libraries to hold “scan-athons” to help digitizes and OCR community cookbooks and other food manuscripts.

•Research community and archive mapping surveys to better understand the community and their needs.

•Producing a report on digitization standards and next steps towards harmonising Food related digital content.

•Work shopping the possibility of a food based search engine, able to sort by ingredient, recipe, cooking style, time period, etc.

Outputs (2020-21)

Please find a collection of research summaries from the Network on the Outputs tab.

Figure of the networks scope:

The collaborating organisations represent some of the largest and most important UK/US digitised food-based collections:

The Boston University (project partner), U of Sheffield, U of Leeds, Wellcome Collection, Guildhall Library, U of York, U of Brighton, the Linnean Society, and Folger Shakespeare Library, UC San Diego Library, National Museum of American History, U of Southern Mississippi, U of South Florida (US).

Further impact and reach is delivered through our partner organisations: JISC, Adam Matthews, The Recipes Project, H-Nutrition, Food Researchers in Edinburgh (FRiED) Research Group, N8 Agrifood, and the Friends of the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery.