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International Seminar Series: Chocolate and Vanilla, Dialogues of Race

Wednesday, October 11th 2017
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

Event Description

Title of Presentation: Chocolate and Vanilla: Dialogues of Race

Speaker: Katie Sampeck, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anthropology (SOA) at Illinois State University

Presentation Overview: Both cacao (from several species and varieties of the tropical Theobroma tree) and vanilla, an orchid with many species across the tropics, were both Mesoamerican cultivars with potent symbolic and social meanings and economic importance. This pre-Columbian cultural ecology took a dramatic turn within the context of early modern medicine and theories of sustenance, ingestion, identity, and morality. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century humoral theory and folk theorizing understood phenotypic characteristics, the environment, and particularly food as a dynamic set of relationships that created, maintained, and crafted the corporeal and spiritual self. Early modern ideas about the fluidity of physical features such as skin tone and mental or psychological abilities such as industriousness found an anchor in food and climate; environmental context and ingestion rather than bloodline generated personal qualities. People ate not just to sustain, but to craft the self, as ingestibles had much to do with who and how they were. The development of racialized ideologies of blackness and whiteness became linked in the seventeenth through eighteenth century with chocolate and vanilla, respectively, through multiple, recursive ways that illustrate the linkages of colonial process as a deployment of taste both to incorporate and establish difference. This topic is global in its genesis and its continuing legacies.

Speaker Bio: Kathryn E. Sampeck (BA, MA, University of Chicago; PhD Tulane University), an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University, is a specialist in the archaeology and ethnohistory of Spanish colonialism.

Series Overview: The International Seminar Series offers the Illinois State campus and Bloomington-Normal communities weekly opportunities to learn about a wide range of international topics. Guest speakers are usually experts in their fields across a range of disciplines who cover a wide array of cultural, historical, political and social topics.

Series events have become one of the most popular internationally focused events on campus and continue to draw ever-growing crowds of students, faculty and community members. Audience members are given time at each event to raise questions to enable a two-way participation and learning.

International Seminar Series events are free and open to the public, and occur every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. in the Bone Student Center. The fall 2017 series will focus on food justice and sustainability.

If you will need special accommodations, please contact the event organizer.


Office of International Studies and Programs
(309) 438-5276


Bone Student Center
200 N. University Street
Normal, IL
(309) 438-4636