Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery Oral History Project

Interview with Theodore Zeldin



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Technological University Dublin


Theodore Zeldin (born 22 August 1933, British Mandate of Palestine), President of the Oxford Muse Foundation, is an English philosopher, sociologist, historian, writer and public speaker. Along with Alan Davidson, he is co-founder of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. Zeldin was born into a Jewish family in Palestine and went to school in Egypt and at Aylesbury Grammar School. He entered Birkbeck College, London when he was 15, graduating in 1951. He then pursued a further undergraduate degree at Christ Church, Oxford, before studying for his DPhil at St Antony's College, Oxford.

Zeldin was first known as a historian of France but is today probably most famous internationally as the author of An Intimate History of Humanity (1994), a book which probes the personal preoccupations of people in many different civilisations, both in the past and in the present; it illuminates the way emotions, curiosities, relationships and fears have evolved through the centuries, and how they might have evolved differently. Since then he has focused on how work can be made less boring and frustrating, how conversation can be less superficial, and how individuals can be more honest with one another, putting their masks aside. Zeldin's masterpiece is A History of French Passions (originally published as France, 1848–1945 in the Oxford History of Modern Europe), an idiosyncratic work examining the ambitions and frustrations, intellectual and imaginative life, tastes and prejudices of a vast range of people. It is one of these passions, food, which led Zeldin to want to include gastronomy and food as a subject into the normal history syllabus. He successfully argued for Alan Davidson’s fellowship application to St Antony’s from which the Oxford Symposium emerged, and he is very pleased that today gastronomy and food have entered into the subjects that are seriously studied in Universities around the world.

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oral history, culinary history, oxford symposium


Arts and Humanities

Interview with Theodore Zeldin