My name is Dani M. Willcutt. I am a second year Ph.D. student in the History Department, and I am very happy to be a CHI Fellow for the 2019-2020 year. Broadly speaking, I study food and culture. I received my Master’s in Gastronomy from Boston University where I also received a master’s certificate in Economic Development via Sustainable Tourism Management. More specifically, I am interested in how culinary entrepreneurship can lead to economic development within a community as a whole but also for those entrepreneurs themselves. The U.S. restaurant industry thrives because of the labor of migrants and immigrants who are able to apply their culinary skills as a means of adapting to their new environment, creating social and career networks, and learn new languages. Having myself spent more than fifteen years within the food service industry, I know the following to be true: culinary preparation and service skills are avenues for both upward and physical mobility.  

Culinary entrepreneurship is significant contributor within strong tourism markets as well. My master’s thesis at BU, “Exploring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Revealing the Economic and Social Effects of Culinary Tourism in the Bluegrass State,” explored the ways in which culinary tourism promotes entrepreneurship as grassroots economic development. My culinary tourism research led me to travel throughout Bourbon Country, naturally, but it also led me to examine the contours of tourism throughout the rest of the U.S. South, New England, and even East Africa.

Today, the Great Lakes region is my subject of interest. I grew up in Michigan and, after living in Paris and then Boston, I found myself wanting to explore and conduct research in my home state. Technically speaking, my major fields here at MSU are Twentieth Century U.S. Food & Labor History. My minor fields are African American History and Migration History. My overarching research topic may be summed up as, “migrant restaurant workers in Michigan.” For my dissertation, I will collect oral histories from restaurant workers, restaurant owners, cooks, chefs, street vendors, and more. I have chosen migrant restaurant workers because I am interested in the experience of internal migration in the America’s – specifically amongst Latino and African American groups. Movement and cultural exchange are inherent components in my research.

For me, engaging with digital humanities allows for me to find effective ways of working with the public while disseminating my research to a wider audience. My research seeks to share stories of those who have participated in culinary entrepreneurship and food service work. I want to share the stories of common people and for this reason I want to ensure that my research is accessible. As of today, I am unsure of what my project will be this year. In the meantime, I am enjoying learning about all of the possibilities within digital humanities. Ultimately, I look forward to being able to create something. Digital projects, in my opinion, allow for more creative expression than the typical process of research and writing. For this reason (amongst many others) I am grateful for the opportunity to be a CHI Fellow for the 2019-2020 academic year.