Screen readers: Two navigational links to follow.Skip to site navigation.Skip to page content.
The University of Iowa News Services
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 17, 2009

Obermann Center scholars examine industrialization of food

Scholars at the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Iowa are investigating the consequences of industrializing food. They are approaching the topic from a variety of angles, ranging from the history of factory farms to controversial regulations related to food safety and trade.

The Cmiel Research Semester, "World Fares: Food, Culture, and Society since the Age of Industrialization," is named in memory of UI interdisciplinary researcher and Obermann scholar Kenneth Cmiel (photo, left). Participants meet frequently to strengthen their projects by exchanging ideas, resources and feedback.

Conveners of the research collaborative are Lauren Rabinovitz, professor of American studies and cinema, and Doris Witt, associate professor of English and law. In all, six professors from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences were selected to participate through a competitive proposal process.

Rabinovitz is studying how the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition effectively sold dramatic changes in food production and preparation to Americans. The fair celebrated new technologies that promised to improve life.

Witt is researching the Codex Alimentarius, a regulatory food code used by the World Trade Organization to adjudicate accusations of unfair trade practices. The code has been subject to widespread debates about the safety, ethics and sustainability of bio-engineered food.

Catherine Komisaruk, assistant professor of history, is studying the shift from hand-ground maize to mechanized wheat mills and bakery bread, which began with the Spanish conquests in Mexico and Central America. Komisaruk looks at how the shift impacted labor, household economies, migration and ethnic identities.

Barbara Mooney, associate professor of art and art history, is examining the history of factory agriculture by looking into the origins, purpose and impact of three round barns constructed by Professor Wilber J. Fraser at the University of Illinois' experimental dairy farm between 1908 and 1912.

Cameron Theis, associate professor of political science, is focusing on the evolving concept of food security. The concept has typically meant a country is not excessively dependent on other countries for food. However, today's definition focuses on threats to food supplies, such as the corruption of food during production, processing or distribution.

Connie Berman, professor of history, is investigating a food revolution during the Middle Ages. Severe famines caused by scorch-and-burn practices used by the military became less common after a change in the rules of engagement. The shift away from food concerns allowed people to focus on other occupations.

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies provides an environment and resources conducive to the exchange of ideas. Scholars from a broad range of disciplines and institutions interact to create and disseminate new knowledge. Obermann Scholars have published numerous books and articles and have been awarded many external research grants and fellowships for projects launched at the center. For more information on the center, visit

Participants in the Cmiel Research Semester receive $1,500 for research expenses, along with release time to work on their projects. Funding is provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Office of the Provost and the Avalon L. Obermann Fund.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Riehl, 319-384-0070,