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Food and Feasting through the Ages

Course details

From £1125.00

Sun 02 Aug 2020 - Sat 08 Aug 2020

Food and Feasting through the Ages


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

Why do we eat what we eat?  Choices are controlled both by availability and social norms.  In this course we will look at the changing choices through the ages, from before the first farmers to modern cuisine.  We will see how the choices expand with trade and how tastes and table-manners change, often reflecting changes in society in general.  We will use material from archaeology, art, manufacturing, and other sources, along with lots of recipes from different times and cultures.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.

We will look at the prehistoric diet; what food resources were available in different periods, the effects of the introduction of farming, and ask what archaeological work at Stonehenge can tell us about Neolithic feasting, and what we can learn from modern hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari.  We will also look at some of the major plant groups that supply much of the world’s food.

We will look at Mediterranean food resources, with a particular focus on the Ancient Greeks. We will see how Alexander the Great’s conquests changed diets, how ideas about poor and elite diets developed, and look at Greek ideas about the relationship between food and medicine, ideas that were to last many centuries. Tour of Christ Church kitchens.

Via a brief look at the Romans we move on to the food of Byzantium and then on to the Middle Ages, when both quantity and quality of food as well as position at table reflected status.  We will consider how the fall of the Roman Empire effected diets, and how social change changed agriculture and therefore food.

The Feast of the Pheasant was one of the great feasts of the Renaissance.  How were such feasts used to project social images and what was eaten at them?  We will look at how contact with the Americas and the Far East changed diets in the 16th and 17th centuries. We will also visit Cogges Museum in Witney, Oxfordshire.

From the 18th century to modern fads.  This period has seen major changes in the technology of cooking and food preparation as well as changing eating habits and the spread of processed foods.  How have these changes affected us, and what do we think the future holds?


Field Trip

Destination:   Cogges Museum; Witney

Excursion Rating: Moderate
Up to two hours' walk on even ground or up to an hour's walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.


Description Costs
Programme fee (no accom–incl. field trip, lunch and dinner) £1125.00
Programme fee (with single en-suite accom, field trip and meals) £1620.00
Programme fee (with single standard accom, field trip and meals) £1435.00


Dr Julia Mary Cresswell


Dr Julia Cresswell has long been a regular tutor on The Oxford Experience. She has also taught undergraduates at a number of Oxford institutions, and works as a writer, mostly on aspects of the English language. She is the author of 20 books, and has also worked for many years as a lexicographer.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Friday, 1 May 2020 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

The fee stated includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available*.

There is also a limited number of standard rooms available, which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but shared bath and toilet facilities. Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room)*.

*If you wish to book a twin en-suite room or a standard twin set room each person should complete an application form and email it to us at as these rooms cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems. Students should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


If accommodation is unavailable in a particular week, we also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.

If you wish to enrol on a non-residential basis please complete an application form and email it to us at as this option cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)