Joseph Karisny

Educational Background: B.A. History (Michigan State University)

Major Field: Modern Europe

Minor Fields: Food & Alcohol; French Empire

Research Language: French and Italian

Committee: Dr. Ronen Steinberg (Advisor), Dr. Karrin Hanshew, Dr. Helen Veit, and Dr. Charles Keith

Office Hours: Mondays, 9:30-10:30 and Tuesdays 10:30-11:30 (249 Old Horticulture)


While training in the broader fields of Modern European, food, and colonial history, my work is specifically committed to examining French food politics in the long nineteenth century. In particular, I am interested in the relationship between food systems and ideology. Exploring how ideology filters food policy and popular dietary knowledge – and how pressing subsistence crises complicate political doctrine – is central to my work. 

My current project takes this interest and applies it to an examination of 1870-1’s Franco-Prussian War.  With an eye towards food and hunger, I trace how different historical actors – ranging from political representatives, scientific experts, culinary professionals, journalists, economists, and common citizens – understood the subsistence crisis stemming from the German blockade. Specifically, I focus on how French citizens conceptualized hunger and critiqued governmental food policies. Rather than simply proposing solutions to a short term crisis, I argue that debates on how to provision Paris expressed something deeper—they articulated anxieties and aspirations of what France would look like after the Second Empire.

This project (acting as my Master’s Thesis equivalent per program requirements) will be the starting point for my dissertation. Tentatively, my research will begin in the Second Empire and unroll into the early Third Republic. By pursuing the history of French food politics, I also anticipate expanding my thematic canvas. Political economy, dietary science, industry, gender, labor, and scientific racism are a few of the subtopics I aim to bring into this work.  

A second year student in the program, I maintain a love of all foods ersatz.