Presentation 1 - How Corn Changed Itself and Then Changed Everything Else

About 10,000 years ago, a weedy grass growing in Mexico possessed of a strange trait known as a “jumping gene” transformed itself into a larger and more useful grass—the cereal grass that we would come to know as maize and then corn. Most textbooks only mention corn in the context of rescuing a few early settlers, but it in fact sustained the colonies and then early United States, and then virtually created the Midwest, a region settled faster than any other region in history. It also created the region’s cities, especially Chicago, where everything from grain elevators to the Chicago Board of Trade to the 1893 World’s Fair to time zones to the stockyards were made possible by the golden flood flowing into the city.

This is a one-hour lecture about the history of corn and how it transformed the Americas before First Contact, how it traveled the world after First Contact, and its stunning impact on the creation of not only the historic Midwest but just about everything in it today.

Program Topics

  • History
  • Food
  • Illinois

Book this presentation by first scheduling a date with Cynthia via email, then completing the Road Scholars Host Organization application.


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Presentation 2 - Wild Boar to Baconfest: Pigs in History and Popular Culture

Pigs were the first food animals to be domesticated, so they have a history with humans that goes back more than 12,000 years. Antiquity is only one of the reasons, however, that pork is the most commonly eaten meat in the world. This odd, contradictory animal offers a great range of advantages when it comes to feeding large populations, especially urban populations, though historically, it has also offered several disadvantages. Once pigs were introduced to the Americas, they became an almost instant success, raised by settlers but also valued by Native Americans. As the Midwest opened, pigs moved west, and numbers grew rapidly. From Cincinnati, known in the early 1800s as Porkoplis, the center of pork culture moved to Chicago, Sandburg’s “Hog butcher for the world.”  Pigs offer culinary delight and potential medical advances, but also create some challenges. So the topic of pigs is as far-ranging as the pigs themselves.

This is a one-hour lecture about the history of pigs and pork and the impact these animals had worldwide but more especially the impact they had once introduced to the Midwest, including why Sandburg would call Chicago “Hog Butcher for the World.”

Program Topics

  • History
  • Food
  • Illinois

Book this presentation by first scheduling a date with Cynthia via email, then completing the Road Scholars Host Organization application.


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About Road Scholar Cynthia A. Clampitt

Cynthia has pursued her love of culture, history, and food in thirty-seven countries on six continents (so far) but has in recent years increasingly focused on the American Midwest. She has been writing and talking about food history for more than twenty years and have authored two books of food history. In addition, she has written textbooks for every major educational publisher in the U.S., including the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and National Geographic Learning. Cynthia is a member of the Culinary Historians of Chicago, the Society of Women Geographers, the Agricultural History Society, and the Midwestern History Association.

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About Illinois Humanities Road Scholars Speakers Bureau

Since 1997, our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau has invited Illinois writers, storytellers, historians, folklorists, musicians, and living history actors, among others, to share their expertise and enthusiasm with people throughout our state. It also supports local nonprofit organizations – including libraries, museums, arts councils, historical societies, civic groups, and many others – in presenting free-admission cultural programs of high quality to their communities for a modest application fee, which can be waived if your organization is experiencing financial hardship.

Our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau roster features speakers hailing from many different communities across Illinois who offer presentations on topics in history, archaeology, philosophy, literature, theater, film, music, politics, and other subjects that are thought-provoking and engaging. The breadth of these offerings reflects our conviction that the humanities can help us to examine the world in all its varied shades and discover in it the remarkable, the strange, the fantastic, the tragic, the humorous, and the beautiful.

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