My project will be a digital representation of my larger research project, How to Read a Cookbook: Deciphering the Life of Malinda Russell. Malinda Russell was a nineteenth century culinary entrepreneur whose 1866, A Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen, is the first known book published by an African American woman. A Domestic Cook Book was published in Paw Paw, Michigan by the True Northerner—a Republican newspaper with the highest readership of all newspapers in southwestern Michigan in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. However, Malinda’s story does not begin in Michigan and her move North was not characterized by a wish for freedom but rather for a safe place for someone of Union sympathies during the Civil War. Malinda was born a free Black woman at the beginning of the nineteenth century and this is just the beginning of ways in which Malinda’s life complicates our understanding of African American lives and foodways during the nineteenth century U.S. It is for this reason that her life is the subject of my digital project this semester.
The topic of digital storytelling has been forefront in my mind as I have been in the planning stages of this project. How can I use the available digital tools to portray the interesting aspects of Malinda Russell’s life? How much information is too much? What are the parts of Russell’s story that I wish to highlight within this project? Finally, how can I enhance her cookbook to tell an interesting story that bridges African American, women’s, labor, and food history in an academic yet captivating way?
Russell’s life was marked by movement and migration so, naturally, I will include a historical map that will allow visitors to trace her movement throughout Appalachia and into Michigan. Each site of significance will feature a pop-up describing Russell’s experience in that city or town. I will create these pop-ups using a tooltip.js plugin. Retrieving Malinda Russell’s story from history is my main objective, but I look forward to using digital tools to tell her story. Culinary history requires more than an archive. Culinary history requires material objects, but it also requires a consideration of the non-tangible aspects of eating, cooking, and dining. Creating an interactive digital story of Malinda Russell will be a way of exploring foodways in a new way.