Joseph Karisny

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

Major Field: Modern Europe

Minor Fields: Food & Alcohol; Colonialism

Research Language: French and Italian

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

Office Hours: Mondays, 10:00-11:30am and Tuesdays by appointment (249 Old Horticulture)


While training in the broader field of Modern European history, I maintain a specific commitment to examining food politics in the French Third Republic. Emphasizing the interplay between ideology and foodscapes, my research charts the intersection of high political thought and everyday life—how ideology configures popular attitudes towards food andhow daily subsistence needs reconfigure political doctrine. 

My current project – entitled Feeding Aspiration, Consuming Anxiety: Food Politics and Republicanism during France’s “Terrible Year” – takes this interest and applies it to an examination of the 1870-1 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.

Many of this project’s themes – acting as my Master’s Thesis equivalent, per program requirements – will bleed into my dissertation. With the prospective title of Regenerative Diets: Food and Population Politics in the French Third Republic, my dissertation will center on eating anxieties in early twentieth century France. Tentatively, I will examine the relationship between dietary concerns and larger fears over the health of France’s population—how the rhetoric of national decline and degeneration configured French attitudes towards food. Analyzing dietary regimes as something programmatic – as a system with social and political aims as well as physiological ones – my dissertation will thread together a diverse array of subfields concerning French population politics (family, labor, and migration history).