Divided We Eat

Social Hierarchy in Dining

Still Life with Fish
Still Life with Fish, by Pieter Claesz. Courtesy of Rijksmuseum.

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

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

Above: Oyster shells from Colonial Harvard Yard, PM 999-22-10/86452. Below:  Cow bone from Colonial Harvard Yard, PM 980-3-10/99980.
cow bone



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