Exploring History Through Memory Dishes

December 9, 2021

A screenshot of a presentation on beef brisket and its historical and cultural connections as part of 2021's Memory Dish Project.
Robert O’Hara ’25 highlighted beef brisket and its cultural and historical significance as part of his presentation for this year’s Memory Dish Project.

Wheeler’s 9th-grade students delved into the cultural and historical connections of some of their favorite foods through this year’s Memory Dish Project for their Topics in World History class.

Ninth-grade history teachers began by discussing how sugar had an enormous impact on farming, labor practices, and slavery, and students later studied how spices made their way through the Silk Road and other historical trade routes. While these food-related topics helped students explore global historical processes, the unit was also personal and rooted in their family or community traditions.

As part of the assignment, each 9th-grade student chose a Memory Dish from their own life, which could be a dish prepared by their family, one shared with friends or neighbors, or even a dish they often order at a particular restaurant. They reflected on their personal connection to their dish, and they also interviewed someone else, like a relative, neighbor, or friend, who had their own connections it. In addition, the students investigated the broader foundation  of their Memory Dish, covering aspects such as its links to patterns of migration, enslavement, and industrialization or its place in global trade.

For their final presentation, students could present their Memory Dish in a video or a podcast that featured excerpts from their interviews, footage of the dish’s preparation, and other visual and audio elements. For example, Robert O’Hara ’25 highlighted beef brisket. He interviewed a family friend about what makes this particular cut of meat unique and the historical connections to Judaism and how its seasonings have strong connections to India and the Silk Road. On a personal level, Robert associated brisket with some of his favorite memories: seasons in which the New England Patriots reached the Super Bowl. 

“I love this dish so much I’ve even had my interviewee make it for me for a couple of my birthdays,” he said in his presentation. “We have the brisket very rarely, but when we do it is always such a special treat and looked forward to for a very long time.”

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