In November 2020, the University Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives took over the management of The Food Timeline and private book collection of the site’s late creator Lynne Olver. The Food Timeline is a significant online collection of information about food and its social context throughout history. 

More than 750 Food Timeline entries span from 2009 "Twecipes" (Twitter recipes) to 17,000BC emmer grain.

According to Anna Zeide, founding director of the Virginia Tech Food Studies Program, The Food Timeline is an unparalleled archive and resource that offers a wide array of materials for studying food history. 

Timeline snippet: The first cereal, Granula, was created in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson and had to be soaked overnight in milk!

“The Food Studies Program seeks to add humanities and social sciences perspectives to the study and teaching of food,” said Zeide. “As part of this goal, we want to help students, faculty, and the broader public understand food from a historical perspective, and better understand the research process used to learn about food in the past, all of which is aided by The Food Timeline.”

Timeline snippet: avocado toast made its first appearance in the U.S. in 1886! Commercial chocolate bars and marshmallows were first available in 1900.

Individual food history courses have worked with the University Libraries’ food and drink collections, including The Food Timeline, with guidance from archivist Kira Dietz. As the Food Studies Program launches a new minor in Fall 2022, the timeline will be centrally integrated into the curriculum. 

For years, The Food Timeline, under the management of Lynne Olver, has been an invaluable resource for foodies, journalists, and academic researchers alike. “Because it is a well-known public-facing site, it also gives our program connections to the broader world of food writers and food journalists who have long turned to The Food Timeline as a resource,” added Zeide. “We hope to collaborate more with those groups in the future.”

Timeline snippet: the first recipe for "Some Mores" appeared in a 1927 Girls Scouts publication. Better Crocker was the first to sell boxed cake mix in 1947.

History of Food and Drink Collection

University Libraries is home to a history of food and drink collecting area. This collecting area began in 2000 with the transfer of the private book collections of Laura Jane Harper and Doralee Peacock from the Department  of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise totalling about 550 items. Today, the collecting area includes more than 7,500 books and publications, as well as more than 125 manuscript collections primarily housed in Special Collections and University Archives.

Lynne Oliver's book collection joins the University Libraries' more than 7,500 books and 125 manuscripts on aspects of cooking, food, drink, and agricultural history!

In addition to sharing centuries of recipes and cookbooks, the history of food and drink collecting areas also help document early American cookery, southern cookery, social history, household management, home remedies, domestic economy, dietetics and nutrition, food processing and preservation, cookery education, and eating and cooking in wartime. Particular areas of focus include the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection, the History of the American Cocktail Collection, and the Food Technology and Production Collection. One-of-a-kind handwritten recipe books from the 1800s and early 1900s are also a part of the collection.

By Ann Brown, Kira Dietz, and Trevor Finney