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Reynolds Offers a Different Taste of World History

Howard W. Hewitt - Distinguished professors, authors, and other notables make their way to Wabash College throughout the academic year. Some of these visitors are "newsworthy" for local media, some bring a message to a wide audience, and others are academics bringing their experience and research to campus to share with the community.

It’s also worth noting that in late fall and early spring the schedule is full of events, with 2-3 speakers a day not unusual. So students, faculty, staff, and the public affairs folks have to pick and choose. When I saw Jonathan Reynolds, a young world historian, was going to be speaking Thursday night I volunteered to go hear his talk. We don’t "cover" every academic talk and this blog entry probably shouldn’t be considered coverage.

But it is valuable to share the wide range of people who visit Wabash to broaden students’ education. Reynolds caught my eye because he teaches at Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Ky. NKU sits atop a hill overlooking the Ohio River about 15 minutes from downtown Cincinnati. I know that well because it’s my alma mater.

Professor of History Rick Warner introduced Reynolds as one of the bright young world historians in the country. Reynolds’ take on world history is probably different than you’ve ever heard before. He started by noting that world history has long been defined by geography, environment, and cultures. But he suggests food plays an equally important role. His talk was titled: "Every Bite is a Taste of History: How Food Complicates and Enriches our Understanding of the Human Past."

His easiest example was to think of Italians and pizza. Pizza and Italy – a logical combination, he said. But nothing on your typical pizza – mozzarella, tomatoes, basil – comes from Italy. Those ingredients come from other parts of the world.

"Food confounds our traditional borders," Reynolds said. "Nobody is eating stuff they were eating 1,000 years ago."

He used an example from Northern Kentucky. He noted NKU had a new student center with a food court. Walking by one day, he saw the food selections with one being a sushi bar. Certainly, he exclaimed, young people in the midwest were not eating sushi 1,000 years ago!

He talked about how sugar and its rapid spread across the continents drove the industrial revolution. He did all of this with tremendous energy, enthusiasm, and humor.

The point is there are many different perspectives, collections of research, and methods of working a classroom or podium. These ‘academic lectures’ are often very enlightening. They challenge your mind to think about things in a new way.

And, after all, isn’t that what ‘critical thinking" is all about?

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