8-10 July 2011 at St Catherine’s College, Oxford

Overview & report

The 2011 Symposium on Celebrations, our 30th anniversary, started with a Friday afternoon session featuring Richard Wrangham’s keynote talk based on his recent book on why humanity cooks and why it matters to who we are. His presentation about heat, science, and digestion was the perfect aperitif—along with the champagne in the garden that followed—before dinner, a delicious repast of monkfish, lamb, and summer berries overseen by chef Shaun Hill. After dinner, symposiasts perused a terrific assembly of memorabilia reflecting thirty years of the Symposium in the form of photos, articles, books, messages, and tributes to former symposiasts who are no longer with us.

View a PDF programme of events and list of plenary and parallel sessions.

On Saturday morning, New Yorker writer Jane Kramer delivered an entertaining survey of the idea and practice of celebration across various cultures and periods ranging from Italy to the Navaho to ballpark hot dogs. Next up was a fascinating talk by Joelle Balhoul on Jewish community celebrations within the context of Muslim majority communities. After lunch, a magnificent spread from Emilia Romagna and Sicily, presentation highlights included Marcia Zoladtz on the origins of the Brazilian feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, Priscilla Mary Işın on sweets in Ottoman Turkey, Christa Weil on the history of confetti, Sabine Cikic and Heike Pethe on the recent trend of eating with strangers in temporary ‘underground’ restaurants, Sarah Milne’s talk on the fantastic culinary spreads put on by the craft-related Guilds in 16th century London, Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire on Viceregal celebrations in Georgian Dublin, Joan Navarre on the Food Society’s Careme Banquet in Brighton, and Aylin Öney Tan on the importance of wheat in Anatolia.

Then it was time for pre-dinner drinks and a fabulous Mexican meal cooked by Fernadndo de la Cruz, Sage Bernard Conran, Tom Conran, and St Catz’s own Tim Kelsey, followed by a long evening sitting outside in the garden, talking quietly with fellow Symposiasts till late. Sunday morning began with Oswyn Murrray’s tour de force overview of the history of symposia and of the word “symposia” itself, followed by talks ranging from Len Fisher’s discussion of the Great Aussie Barbecue to Emma-Jayne Abbotts’s exploration of the role of the guineapig, cuy, as a celebratory foodstuff in Ecuador.

Lunch, Aglaia Kremezi’s ‘Greek Clean Monday’, was another terrific meal with delightful extended conversation before the afternoon session of talks like Kimberley Sorensen’s on New York Cake Boards and Marietta Rusinek’s on the role of cake in celebrations. After coffee, Symposium co-founder Theodore Zeldin asked us to consider the social purpose of what happens during the Symposium, and – as we set out to choose the topic for a few years from now – he urged us to think about using our work to re-create and heal society. Well-chosen thoughts amidst all this happy discussion of celebration.

Symposium co-founder Theodore Zeldin asked us to consider the social purpose of what happens during the Symposium, and – as we set out to choose the topic for a few years from now – he urged us to think about using our work to re-create and heal society.

Plenary Sessions

Keynotes

Richard Wrangham

Why we cook and why it matters

Barbara Wheaton, Joe Wheaton

A Brief Celebratory Rave

Jane Kramer

Celebrating!

Joelle Balhoul

Judeo-Muslim Exchanges in Religious Celebrations

Oswyn Murray

From the Greek Symposium to the Roman Orgy

Alicia Rios

Organoleptic deconstruction in three movements

Meals