25 March 2019
New book explores how cannibalism has long shaped the human relationship with food, hunger and moral outrage
To Feast on Us as Their Prey – Cannibalism and the Early Modern Atlantic is an international collection of ten chapters edited by Lecturer in Modern American History Dr Rachel Herrmann.
Exploring what it meant to accuse someone of eating people as well as how cannibalism rumours facilitated the expansion of slavery and the rise of empires, To Feast on Us as Their Prey argues that it is impossible to separate histories of cannibalism from the role food and hunger have played in the colonization efforts that shaped our modern world.
Ten scholars from the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, and Sweden cover the subject in the Americas, the Caribbean, England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, and Africa.
Chapters discuss subjects ranging from Italian mercantile and diplomatic correspondence about Christopher Columbus, sex and cannibalism, Spaniards and the Eucharist to Tudor imperialism and cannibalism and theatre.
In her chapter ‘“The Black People Were Not Good to Eat”: Cannibalism, Cooperation, and Hunger at Sea’ Dr Herrmann uses slave narratives and abolitionist writings to explore how enslaved peoples and sailors cooperated with each other and fought over shipboard provisions.
“To Feast on Us as Their Prey argues that cannibalism has to be studied alongside other topics such as diplomacy, gender, hunger, imperialism, and the theatre. To appreciate cannibalism’s many meanings, it is much more fruitful to ask why cannibalism stories mattered to people at the time these stories circulated than it is to debate whether or not people really consumed each other” explains Dr Herrmann.
The book began life first as a master’s thesis at the University of Texas at Austin, then as an article for the William and Mary Quarterly and subsequently as a conference. Cardiff University undergraduates in Dr Herrmann’s History in Practice seminar also studied and wrote about cannibalism using material from the book. During Women’s History Month, Dr Herrmann discussed the collection with Redditors during an Ask Me Anything Q&A hosted by the subreddit r/AskHistorians.
Lecturer in Modern American History Dr Rachel Herrmann specialises in colonial, Revolutionary, and Atlantic history, with particular focus on food and hunger in the Atlantic World. She is currently conducting research on Geographies of Power on Land and Water: Space, People, and Borders with Dr Jessica Roney from Temple University in the US thanks to an AHRC Networking Scheme grant.
To Feast on Us as Their Prey is published by University of Arkansas Press in its Food Studies series.