Foodways & Daily Life in Medieval Anatolia: A New Social History. By Nicolas Trepanier. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014. Pp. xvi + 243, $55.
Foodways & Daily Life in Medieval Anatolia is, as its title suggests, a new social history as well as a pioneering study and in many respects a reference work. This combination is not an easy one to achieve, and in this volume Nicolas Trepanier has clearly put in the effort of combining meticulous work, thorough treatment of diverse sources, careful methodology, and good writing.
The immediately recognizable strength of the book is its novelty in looking at the daily lives of ordinary people in fourteenth-century central Anatolia through food, based on an exhaustive and methodologically sound exploitation of the existing sources in Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. Trepanier offers an original analysis of religious texts, hagiographies, epics, chronicles, endowment deeds, and a variety of other narrative sources, including those written by outsiders to Anatolia. The social history of medieval Anatolia has been viewed as a field doomed to suffer from a scarcity of sources. Trepanier overcomes this ostensibly challenging circumstance by his comprehensive treatment of the greater part of all primary sources in the said languages, making more out of them than is apparent to the eye. Though the available sources are not "about food," they are allowed to speak regarding food through the author's original questions and source criticism. The written sources are exploited beyond the information they reveal upfront, and are further analyzed as to what they do not disclose. Another distinctive quality of the work is the systematic inclusion of archeological research into the analysis, proving this approach to be a necessity rather than a luxury for the development of the field.
The emphasis on central Anatolia, however, does not figure into the title, which initially gives the impression of a wider scope. Excluding coastal Anatolia from the analysis means the exclusion of the olive and olive oil in the food culture of the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Anatolia, as well as data from other regions that would display further diversity. Trepanier aptly justifies his choice of central Anatolia as the geographical focus of his work by asserting that it offers a more "stable social makeup" compared to the coastal regions, which remained in Byzantine hands much longer. This factor enables him to focus the...