Society for the Advancement of Social Studies
By Andrew Andrews
It’s been said that no matter what “your thing” is, you can find “your people” in New York. For every interest from the obvious (professional sports, gourmet restaurants, art museums, comedy clubs, live theater and live music) to the more obscure (urban exploration, filthy songs, cardboard robot battles and storytelling shows), you can find folks that share you passion somewhere in the five boroughs, if you look hard enough.
Take, for example, “booze-fueled slide shows about history.” For the past five years, the Society for the Advancement of Social Studies has been delivering exactly that, at a cozy little bar in Williamsburg—specifically, the back room at The Bedford. Each month, three enthusiasts who are geeky about some very vertical niche in a broader category of history take to the stage for about fifteen minutes apiece to deliver an audiovisual expression of their passion. You might suspect that very few guests would bother to attend such a lecture, or that those who show up would be equally excited about the topic. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth: the room is always packed full of observers who have no stronger attachment than an interest in expanding their knowledge while throwing back a few beers—or any of the other drink specials that evening.
The History of Food and Drink was tonight’s broad category, and the first presentation was The Pop Culture of Food by author and academic Martin Lund. Covering art forms from mainstream movies to comic books, Lund explained that food appears all-too-frequently in life’s stories, and it always appears with a purpose: setting the stage for the time, place and characters involved.
Next to the stage was Becky Sandler, a regular speaker at SASS. For this episode, Sandler gave us The Explosive History of Popcorn—beginning with an explanation that popcorn is actually not very explosive, clocking in at approximately 135psi. A very interesting story, popcorn’s early history is largely uncertain, but it’s popularity over the past century is closely tied to the film industry (as you might imagine). Sandler herself professed the snack to be among her favorites, and her enthusiasm made the presentation very fun and engaging.
Returning speaker Kevin Valliere rounded out the evening with The History of Eating in Orbit, an investigation of the food that astronauts have carried into space throughout the years. Did you know, for example, that so-called “astronaut ice cream” has never actually left the earth’s atmosphere? And if you’re looking to enter the space program yourself, you might be glad to know that the food options keep getting tastier and tastier, with celebrity chefs now preparing meals for those in orbit. Valliere is a talented speaker, and his dramatic reading of a transcript from an Apollo mission about a loose turd floating around the capsule closed the show on a very funny note.
If any of this sounds the least bit interesting to you, check out the next Society for the Advancement of Social Studies on January 10th, hosted by founders Larissa Hayden and Anna Rasche. It’s a great way to spend a Tuesday evening in Williamsburg, on a night when there aren’t many annoying tourists on the sidewalk, and even fewer, if any, at the show. But that’s not even the best part: there’s no cover charge and no minimums— although the tasty food is worth the splurge!4
Andrew Andrews attended Society for the Advancement of Social Studies at The Bedford in Brooklyn on Tuesday, December 13, 2016 @ 7:30pm to write this review.
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