“Your Most Humble Servant, Hannah Woolley”: Servitude and Hannah Woolley’s Restoration Household
Stefano Mancini, History, 2022
Thesis advisor: Professor Louisa Foroughi
How and when did you select your advisor and the thesis committee members?
I chose Professor Louisa Foroughi as my advisor because I had taken two classes with her and her deep knowledge and commitment to mentoring framed a lot of my academic interests and theoretical approaches. I also really liked the way that she taught writing – papers were never daunting in her classes – and knew that she had high expectations of her students, so I understood I would be challenged throughout the thesis to create a piece of work that I was really proud of. I also hoped to write my thesis on a topic that wasn’t necessarily about the United States or the relatively recent past, and since she has a deep knowledge of medieval and early modern European and colonial history, she was a perfect fit.
I chose my committee in the first semester based on what kind of support my thesis needed. Professor Rebekah Pite is an expert on food studies and labor history, and I knew from previous classes that she provided great feedback on student writing. Her contributions in methodology and thoughts about the revision process were very helpful. Professor Paul Cefalu studies seventeenth-century England, so he provided historical context and helped me understand the mentalities of the Stuart period.
When did you start thinking about your thesis? How did you select your topic? How did you develop your research question?
I started thinking about my thesis around the beginning of the second semester of junior year, and I considered papers I’ve written in previous classes, primary source databases and collections I was already familiar with, and topics that I had found interesting but had never quite looked into. I also thought deeply about my academic interests and realized that I had a lot of experience with gender history and food studies, so it seemed natural that I continued in that vein for my thesis. Since I only speak English and Spanish, my scope was already narrowed for me.
After she agreed to be my advisor, Professor Foroughi gave recommendations of premodern gender and food topics that she thought I might be able to make an intervention in, including cookbooks. While poring through centuries of different cookbooks written by men and women, Hannah Woolley’s seventeenth-century cookbooks immediately stood out to me in their depth, importance, and the lack of previous scholarship written about them. I developed my research question based on my interest in reading against the grain to learn about servants through cookbooks after seeing so many references to labor in Woolley’s works, but I constantly refined my research question based on what I found unexpected in the books.
How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?
At the end of my junior year, before classes ended, Professor Foroughi asked me to create a short annotated bibliography of articles and books that might be useful to my thesis, and to read over my primary sources closely. This was very helpful, as I already had strong research going into senior year and dissected closely what methods other scholars had used to look at food topics.
Did your advisor explain the structure of a thesis project to you?
Yes! Although I was Professor Foroughi’s first thesis student, she had a great sense of what an effective work schedule would be and how to accomplish a thesis.
Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?
While I did not need to do a formal literature review, reading the historiography on early modern gender, literacy, labor, foodways, society, and politics was crucial to developing my research question and contextualizing Hannah Woolley’s works. Doing this was hard before my topic was set in stone! Placing primary sources and secondary sources in conversation was the most helpful throughout this process – I treated reading as an active process of questioning and analyzing.
Do you remember receiving correspondence from the library about your honors thesis?
Yes! I knew that the library provided research support for thesis students, and I knew from past projects that librarians are fantastic partners in the research process.
What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?
There were challenging moments in which it seemed like there was nothing more to analyze, and I found myself unsure if my thesis could really do what it set out to do. What was most helpful was returning to the broad themes and questions of early modern and gender history, reading more closely, and writing even if I wasn’t sure exactly where I would end up.
What did you find most rewarding about your thesis project?
This process was endlessly rewarding, from the relationships with professors gained, the community of history majors writing theses, and the joy of producing new knowledge. What I find most rewarding, however, is being an expert in a topic, place, and time period, and that I have my own evidence-based contribution. Professor Foroughi often quotes Douglas Adams, who quipped “The past is truly like a foreign country. They do things exactly the same there,” and if that’s true, I’ve just spent a year traveling!
What assistance did your advisor/department offer you throughout the course of the year?
I met with my advisor most weeks, submitting research or writing progress, receiving marked-up drafts, and discussing theories and next steps. These were extremely helpful and particularly helped me with the frequent reframing in the earlier stages of the project where I wasn’t quite sure what I was studying exactly. Revising as I went along made the spring semester less hectic as well. Professor Foroughi was frequently available by email. When I took courses with her, she helped me strategize ways to use assignments to bolster my thesis.
The history department was a wonderful department to write a thesis in. All the professors are invested in your success and have a wide base of knowledge such that they can all ask perceptive questions that make your thesis stronger. In the first semester, we had weekly meetings as department students to talk about all aspects of writing a thesis, high-level discussions which were also full of laughs! In December, we presented our theses to the department, and seeing how other students were completing their theses provided inspiration for me.
Did you meet with librarians in the course of conducting your research? How many times and at what stages of your research?
I had previously worked with Ana Ramirez Luhrs on a variety of food projects, and any time I saw her she was sure to ask how my thesis was going. If I had trouble finding secondary sources, which I did several times during the process, Ana was always one email away to provide new directions and thoughts on where I could go.
What other kind of support did you rely on throughout the year to accomplish your thesis (parents, friends, etc.)?
I could not be more grateful for the personalities in the history department – professors and students – for making this process fun and providing both incisive feedback and witty quips throughout the year. Sometimes it was difficult writing about a premodern and non-American topic, because listeners are less familiar with histories of early modern England, so I also used talking to others about the thesis to find gaps in my own knowledge and to concisely and clearly explain my topic’s relevance to others.
Were you able to get access to all of the research materials you wanted for your project?
Yes! I’m grateful for the library’s extensive collections and databases, and for the speed of interlibrary loan despite my many, many requests.
Would you do anything differently if you went through the process again?
I would have spent more time the summer before starting my thesis reading several histories of the Restoration period and of female service. That summer, I watched a free online course on sixteenth and seventeenth century England by Keith Wrightson, a prominent expert on early modern England’s economy and society, but a more detailed contextual understanding of the period would have made the first few months of my thesis much easier.
Also, I worked on cookbooks, so I would have tried making recipes from them – it would have been a great reason to look at my sources even more closely.
What advice would you offer other honors thesis students, especially in your department?
You’re already on the first step – talking to other students about their thesis journeys can be very helpful.
Write things down in a centralized place and easy-to-read format with detailed citations even during the research phase. I know you’re telling yourself you’re going to remember this one author’s really compelling argument and innovative method, but I can’t promise you will!
Make your project come alive. Eat the foods that the people you’re studying ate (the Pie and Tart Shop happened to make a tasty 1660s recipe for Marlborough Pie), listen to the music they might have listened to, and try to approach their mentalities with empathy.
Trust your advisor! Even when you have doubts, it will come together as long as you put in the work.
Most importantly, hold yourself accountable. Without strict deadlines, it’s always tempting to put off research or writing “just one more week” – although there is plenty of time to work on your thesis, it also all adds up. Your thesis should generally be your top priority. Take advantage of times where you have less going on in your other classes, but also be sure to make the most of your senior year and enjoy the great community at Lafayette and in Easton – making meaningful connections and memories will also benefit your thesis greatly!