Saint Thomas University, Canada
Fellowship : October 2021 to June 2022
Discipline(s) : History
Pays : Canada
This project explores links between empire building and frozen food from the 1890’s through the 1970’s. Beginning in the late 19th century, refrigerator ships plied the world’s oceans, bringing frozen meat from areas with ample grazing land, like Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, to protein-hungry European cities. In the decades that followed, regardless of wars and regime changes, this pattern persisted, laying key groundwork for global food systems today.
Using a long time frame and a wide geographical scope, this project makes three main contributions. Drawing on the historiographies of both food and empire, it reveals ground-level processes through which products from peripheral areas were drawn toward imperial centres. Second, by studying frozen food infrastructure, it demonstrates how prioritizing empire-building motivated technological change and how new technologies enabled empire. Finally, the research offers novel ways to understand similarities and differences between “classic” colonial empires, wartime structures like Hitler’s Greater Germany, and trade-based imperial complexes that did not involve direct geo-political control.
“Frozen Food and Empire” investigates the historical processes that underpin today’s global food market. It addresses food security and examines the roots of ongoing power imbalances between peripheral areas, where agricultural products are often produced and frozen, and metropoles, where they are typically consumed.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Julia Torrie is a Professor of History at St. Thomas University (Canada). She holds an A.M and Ph.D. from Harvard University, USA, and her research focuses broadly on the interactions of powerful and less powerful actors within constraining structures such as empires and military occupations. She has written on the social and cultural history of the Second World War and, more recently, on the history of food. Her book German Soldiers and the Occupation of France, 1940-1944 (Cambridge, 2018) uses soldiers’ diaries, letters and amateur photographs to examine the occupation of France from below. A previous monograph, “For Their Own Good”: Civilian Evacuations in Germany and France, 1939-1945 (Berghahn, 2010), compared civilian evacuations in the two countries. Notably the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany have funded Torrie’s research. She has published articles on wartime food history, soldier tourism and photography, the German home front, and women’s wartime roles as military auxiliaries. Today, her research focuses on the historical development of food infrastructure in war and peacetime, and its interaction with empire.