“Cultures of Intoxication: Contextualising Alcohol and Drug Use, Past & Present” Conference Report

Editor’s Note: Today’s conference report comes from Dr. Alice Mauger of the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland, School of History, University College Dublin. Dr. Mauger also organized the event.

“Cultures of Intoxication: Contextualising Alcohol and Drug Use, Past & Present”, University College Dublin, Ireland, 7-8 February 2020 – Conference Report

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University College Dublin was delighted to welcome twenty-five delegates to the UCD Humanities Institute on 7 and 8 February 2020 to take part in “Cultures of Intoxication: Contextualising Alcohol and Drug Use, Past & Present”. Sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, this event featured speakers from institutions in Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

The conference was part of my three-year Wellcome Trust research fellowship on “Alcohol, Medicine & Irish Society, c. 1890-1970”. Now in its final month, this project has explored social, cultural and political perceptions of excessive drinking and alcohol addiction in Ireland, especially the degree of influence the “drunken Irish” stereotype has had on medical responses to alcoholism. 

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On being cited by the Supreme Court

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Richard F. Hamm, Professor of History at the University at Albany, SUNY. He is with Michael Lewis co-editor of the forthcoming Prohibition’s Greatest Myths (LSU Press, forthcoming April 2020), which has an essay by Thomas Pegram, who is also cited in Alito’s opinion in the Tennessee case.  

So, in late June of this year, I was reading a United States Supreme Court case.  Not something unusual for me, as I am legal historian as well as a historian of alcohol policy.  Actually what I was reading was the “slip opinion” which used to be the unbound just-off –the-press opinions of the justices, available before the volume of the United States Reports in which the case would be included was compiled and printed.  Today they are available on the internet.  

The case is one that would interest readers of this blog: it is Tennessee Wine v. Thomas and it concerns how far the second clause of the 21st amendment will reach.  The readers of this blog will know that amendment’s first section repealed the 18th amendment, formally ending national alcohol prohibition in the United States.  What only a few of you know is that its second section gives states broad powers to regulate alcohol.  Based on an important pre-prohibition federal law, the 1913 Webb-Kenyon Act, it reads: “The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.”  And there as I was reading the dense prose of Justice Samuel Alito for the majority of seven justices, I came across my name and a citation to my first book, Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment (UNC Press, 1995).  It’s right there on page 14 and again on page 17, as part of the long discussion of the relationship between the federal government’s commerce power and state alcohol policy.

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Self-Help Isn’t The Solution; It’s The Problem

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. 

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The sober curious movement (or “new sobriety”—the branding comes in a variety of flavors) is less a coherent philosophy or sound medical advice and more of a marketing campaign, hawking self-help merchandise and thousand-dollar yoga retreats, along with run-of-the-mill solipsism. It is an online phenomenon, fluent in the language of Instagram, elevated by media-types who share similar well-to-do backgrounds and sensibilities. It is hash-taggable psychobabble meant to solve cosmopolitan ennui and stay-at-home malaise. Its fans are not only upper class but also ultra-fit, photogenic 30-and-40-somethings ready-made for television. 

Scratching the surface, you discover that the day-to-day problems of sobriety-curious enthusiasts aren’t what most of us would classify as problems. And as for solutions, it features primarily simple adjustments like not carrying into adulthood the same level of alcohol consumption you did as an undergraduate. I can’t imagine the people quoted in these stories as real; they are much closer to Arrested Development or Schitt’s Creek characters. Even that comparison might be generous. 

A reporter comparing “mindful drinking” (lots of terms for the same thing) to AA’s anonymity found, “No longer is the topic of sobriety confined to discreet meetings in church halls over Styrofoam cups of lukewarm Maxwell House. For these New Abstainers, sobriety is a thing to be, yes, toasted over $15 artisanal mocktails at alcohol-free nights at chic bars around the country, or at “sober-curious” yoga retreats, or early-morning dance parties for those with no need to sleep off the previous night’s bender.”

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SHAD Interview: “The Making of a Hero: Maria Legrain (1863–1945), a French ‘Temperance Apostle,'” with Victoria Afanasyeva

Editor’s Note: Today marks our last interview with an author from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Victoria Afanasyeva, a doctoral student at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is the author of “The Making of a Hero: Maria Legrain (1863–1945), a French ‘Temperance Apostle.'” 

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

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Victoria Afanasyeva

I’m a Russian girl passionate about the French language and the archives. I started learning French when I was 15 and continued in the Kaluga State University, in my hometown. After finishing my studies, I started to work as a university French teacher and in parallel, I entered the French University College in Moscow to expand my horizons in sociology and history. Thanks to my history teacher, who was very invested and encouraging, I fell in love with archives papers and investigation process. I got a scholarship to come in France to finish my Master 2 degree in history, with a study project about Frenchwomen in the temperance movement during the Belle Époque. And today, I’m on the last line of my PhD dissertation about the history of Frenchwomen engaged in the temperance movement since 1835 until 2013. 

What got you interested in alcohol (and its history)?

In 2013, I was in my hometown library, thinking about a subject for Master 1 degree. I was looking through annual directories of Kaluga of the last 19th century when I found advertising for French alcohol. Literally amazed at the quantity and quality of wines and cognacs imported in my small city, which had about 50,000 people at this period, I thought that it would be interesting to analyze the evolution of the alcohol question in my region. 

One year later, I was looking for a scholarship project. Alcohol history in wine-drinking France attracted me, then I became particularly interested in the temperance movement. There were meager mentions about temperance women – especially about Maria Legrain – in academic studies (Nourrisson, Prestwich, Dargelos, Fillaut), whereas on-line archives revealed important and unexamined female activity.

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SHAD Interview: “Radical Actions: Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women’s Temperance Activism in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Australia,” with Maggie Brady

Editor’s Note: Today we finish our special three-post extravaganza of author interviews from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Dr. Maggie Brady, an honorary associate professor at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at Australian National University. She discusses her article, “Radical Actions: Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women’s Temperance Activism in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Australia.”

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

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Dr. Maggie Brady

I was born in Bristol, England, from which I escaped to London and an office job at the BBC. After various explorations (traveling and working in southern Africa; working as a teacher; migrating to Australia) and after hearing an inspiring lecturer, I discovered anthropology. Fortuitously at the time I was a research assistant in a medical school’s psychiatry department in Adelaide, where I ended up participating in field work for a research project on juvenile ‘delinquency’ (as it was called then) and volatile solvent use (gasoline sniffing) among young Aboriginal people in a remote settlement on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain in South Australia. At the time youths were sniffing leaded petrol and developing lead encephalopathy along with other health and social problems. The work with the medical team there enabled me to forge relationships with the Aboriginal community and subsequently I was able to pursue my own research project for a higher degree in anthropology. I learned so much in those first few years of ‘immersion’, even though I did not realise it at the time. Perhaps that’s what fieldwork of this sort is all about.  

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

Living in that particular community – of Aboriginal people who had been displaced from their land by atomic testing in the 1950s – I could not ignore their history, and the social distress manifesting in widespread gas sniffing among the young, and damaging, ‘heroic’ levels of drinking among the adults, particularly men.  Fifty percent of deaths in the community were alcohol-related. So, apart from engaging with the present situation (measuring alcohol-related harms, helping the community to restrict local supplies), I became interested in when this had all started. When and under what circumstances did these desert people first encounter strong drink? How did they respond? How did they describe it? What drug substances did they know prior to the arrival of Europeans? Did they know of fermentation? Did its absence protect them from ‘white man’s poison’ or make them more vulnerable to it? What was it about their history and social organisation that meant community members found it so difficult to intervene in alcohol abuse or sniffing among their own kin networks?    

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SHAD Interview: “‘The Fatal Gaze of This Moral Basilisk: The Salvation Army’s War on Drink in Victorian Britain,” with Steven Spencer

Editor’s Note: This week we continue with a special three-post extravaganza of author interviews from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Steven Spencer, author of “‘The Fatal Gaze of This Moral Basilisk’: The Salvation Army’s War on Drink in Victorian Britain,” director of the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre in London, and an Honorary Fellow in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester.

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Steven Spencer (Photo  ©Alistair Kerr, Creative Mongrel)

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

After completing an MA in history, I trained as an archivist at University College London in 2006-2008 and had worked in a range of archives before I came to work for The Salvation Army in 2009. I’m the Director of The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, where we hold archives, objects and books relating to the history of The Salvation Army from its origins in the 1860s (and even earlier!) up to the present day. As the International Heritage Centre we hold material on The Salvation Army all over the world. 

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

My interest in the history of the temperance movement is relatively recent. The Salvation Army was invited by the University of Preston’s Demon Drink project to give a paper at their “Radical Temperance” conference in 2018. I presented a paper on the history of The Salvation Army’s stance on alcohol and my colleague gave a paper on The Salvation Army’s contemporary work in addressing alcoholism and continued commitment to abstinence from alcohol.

I must confess that up until this point, I hadn’t given much thought to the wider temperance movement but, as I began the research for my paper, I was absolutely fascinated by its scope and scale in the UK and USA in the C19th and early C20th. Temperance has been considered one of the most significant social campaigns of the period and became a mainstream political issue, culminating of course with prohibition in the USA. I also became aware of the absence of research on The Salvation Army’s total abstinence stance or on its role in the wider temperance movement.

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SHAD Interview: “‘A Good Advertisement for Teetotalers’: Polar Explorers and Debates over the Health Effects of Alcohol, 1875–1904,” with Edward Armston-Sheret

Editor’s Note: This week we continue with a special three-post extravaganza of author interviews from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Edward Armston-Sheret, a historical geography PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of “’A Good Advertisement for Teetotalers’: Polar Explorers and Debates over the Health Effects of Alcohol, 1875–1904.”

Tell readers a little bit about yourself. 

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Edward Armston-Sheret

I am a PhD student in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London. My research focuses on nineteenth-century British explorers and how they used their bodies in the field and represented them to domestic audiences.

 What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

When reading explorers’ accounts, I kept finding them use and talk about alcohol and drugs in ways that seemed totally alien to me. For instance, several polar explores talk about feeding their hypothermic ponies bottles of brandy or whiskey to warm them up (there is photo evidence—Google it!). This showed the degree to which some explorers genuinely thought that alcohol had warming qualities and sparked my curiosity in the subject. 

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As Armston-Sheret’s research shows, it’s probably not wise to actually force your pony to drink alcohol. 

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