Divided We Eat: Social Hierarchy in Dining

Still Life with Fish, by Pieter Claesz. Courtesy of Rijksmuseum.
Oyster shells from Colonial Harvard Yard, PM 999-22-10/86452.
Cow bone from Colonial Harvard Yard, PM 980-3-10/99980.

What did you eat for lunch today? Answering this question from the perspective of a 17th-century Harvard student can illustrate vast differences between now and then. In the 21st century, Harvard provides the same dining experience for any student through a universally shared meal plan. With increasing economic diversity at Harvard, this meal plan becomes essential for creating an environment of equality. At 17th-century Harvard, however, students had varying dining experiences depending on criteria like age and wealth.

Food becomes a way to understand inequalities at early Harvard. While most 17th-century food disintegrated hundreds of years ago, uncovering archaeological food remains like animal bones and studying written archives allowed us to explore the daily dining differences among 17th-century Harvard students.


Harvard's Daily Schedule

Time Activities

6 am
7 am
8 – 11 am
11 am
11 – 2 pm
2 – 5 pm
5 pm
6 – 7:30 pm
8 – 9 pm
9 pm
11 pm

  Morning prayers
  Morning bever (a small meal of beer and bread)
  Three hour-long lectures
  Recreation and study
  Meetings with tutors and study
  Afternoon bever
  Evening prayers
  Retire to rooms, lamps out for underclassmen
  Lamps out for upperclassmen