In UCLA’s Digital Humanities 101, a course where digital tools are introduced to enable the execution of research projects, datasets were assigned to groups. Each group had the freedom to explore and create a project out of their data set. We worked with the New York Public Library’s “What’s on the Menu?” collection which consists of about 45,000 menus dating from 1840 to the present. A quarter of the collection has been digitized and displayed in the NYPL Digital Gallery. Our original dataset consisted of four separate CSV (comma separated value) files of the individual dishes, information about the menus (type of meal, venue, type of occasion, etc.), menu item, and menu page. Due to the files’ sheer size and our focus, we concentrated on the menus and dishes in the collection from 1900 to 1950.
We set out to study the influence immigration had on upper-class cuisine from 1900 to 1950. We did this through examining the menus of five New York Hotels, which formed our case study, and comparing the changes in their menus to immigration data collected from the 1900 to 1950 censuses. We concentrated on hotels because of the numerous hotel menus in the Buttolph collection. Our team focused on the dishes data set and cleaned it using OpenRefine to study ethnic influences in the actual food served in the five hotels. For more information about the decisions made regarding our data set, please go to the Data. Our maps and visualizations indicate that the connection may not be clear cut and direct. We presented the insight gained from grappling with our data set using data visualization tools like TableauPublic, Timeline JS, RAW, and Logger Pro.
We would like to give thanks to Professor Miriam Posner and Francesca Albrezzi for the time they invested in the Digital Humanities 101 students this quarter, particularly in their guidance and advice to us through the execution of our project. We would also like to give special thanks to Katie Rawson for her expertise and advice in handling this dataset. Her work with the data and research into Frank E. Buttolph, as presented on Curating Menus, was invaluable to our understanding of the collection.