The History of Sociability


The theme of the conference is the history of sociability. Although the Internet Age has brought some changes to sociability, humans continue to interact in ways, including through material routes (food, alcohol, public houses, sport, manners), hierarchy and power (the theatre state, competition, courtly decorum), and communicative realms (literary sociability, gender, class belonging, opinion formation), that were similar across various historical eras. In a time when the discursive realms of forming public opinion are becoming increasingly artificial and coopted by hegemonic state apparatuses, it is imperative to examine the history of sociability. The goal of the conference is to analyze the various ways humans have socialized and continue to socialize during four epochs: the Medieval World, the Early Modern World, the Modern World, and the Internet Age. The theme is intentionally broad to encourage scholars from different disciplines with various geographical and chronological concentrations to present works that will allow for comparison across a wide breadth. This will likewise encourage interdisciplinary comparisons. Given that sociability has a particular relevancy to contemporary society, this will also encourage community engagement, a goal of the conference.

William Woys Weaver

Keynote: "The Pretzel as Commensality: Breaking Bread and the Communal Table"

For most Americans, the pretzel is a crisp, salty snack that is baked and “exported” to the rest of the US from Pennsylvania, long known as the “Pretzelvania.”  However, while the pretzel was first brought into the Keystone State during the late 1600s by German-speaking bakers, its role in social customs traces back to the European roots of this highly symbolic food. The pretzel was not only food but an agent for transmitting tradition. The speaker, William Woys Weaver, is an internationally-known scholar studying food, heirloom gardening, and kitchen garden history.

New Year's Pretzel