Growing Knowledge Together.

The Western Pennsylvania Foodways Collection

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About Us

The Western Pennsylvania Foodways Collection uses food as a tool to document the stories of our region and uncover a meaningful past.

Our goal is to collect and share oral history interviews, as well as contextual material such as, recipes, images, video, and written text, to document the agriculture and food stories of the region. This collection provides a home for food, labor, and gender knowledge that may have otherwise gone undiscovered. This collection also provides evidence of culture and food labors of many people, including women and ethnic-racial groups who are often underrepresented in historical narratives. By collecting these stories, we honor the men and women whose hard work enriches the landscape of Southwest Pennsylvania's food and culture. 

Our First Projects

Babka and Beyond: Bread, Grains, and Baked Goods in Western Pennsylvania

Italian-American Foodways: An Exploration of the Italian-American food experience in Pittsburgh

Hidden Kitchens: A Comparative Look at Women's Labor in Restaurants and Home Kitchens

All of the recorded interviews, written transcripts, video clips, images, and written text collected through this project will be accessible through Chatham University's Library Archives and Special Collections and the Digital Public Library of America very soon!

Babka and Beyond: Bread, Grains, and Baked Goods in Western PA

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The Project

This flagship project of the Western Pennsylvania Foodways Collection explored in-depth stories about how grains -- from agriculture to bread making and baking -- can contribute to larger themes of identity, community, and social capital. Through this project, we aimed to better understand how people interact with the food system through the most basic of needs: bread. Bread defines community --  through the type of grain used, the method of preparing and cooking, and perhaps most importantly, with whom people break bread. Those similarities and differences cut across regions, cultures, and nations.  This project relied on a common approach to oral history as a research method that uncovers the experiences of people and place through food.

This project encompasses a series of oral history interviews that aim to document a previously undocumented segment of Western Pennsylvania culture and labor. The project includes forty interviews, an interactive regional map, audio and video clips, and workshops and events, all encompassing either grains cultivation (farms and mills) or grains production (bakeries and baked goods businesses).

The Region

For this project, we focused our interviews within the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. The Rivers of Steel Heritage area is a federally designated region in southwestern Pennsylvania, focused on the promotion of the area's rich culture and history, specifically within the steel industry. By aligning the regions in which major industry took place, we can draw comparisons and contrasts between the baking and the steel industries, specifically within themes of labor and place.

The national heritage area encompasses the following counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Greene, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland. 

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The Interviews

 
 

Findings & Themes

Learn more about this project, listen to audio clips, watch videos, and look through images at our Western Pennsylvania Foodways Collection Blog (coming soon!) 

Soon you will be able to engage with some of the interviews and other materials below!

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Labor

  

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Connection to Place

   

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Sharing Stories Through Maps

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Nostalgia

  

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Growing Grains vs. Baking Bread

  

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Gender and Sourdough

 
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A Historical Industry