Monday, May 13, 2013

An Introduction

As a doctoral student embarking on the adventure known as the dissertation, I find myself standing on a figurative edge - at that point when I either find myself in the midst of exhilarating discovery or falling face first into a disorganized mess. I will admit, I underestimated the weight of such a project, but my optimism remains high that this dissertation will have an end point, even if it is currently out of sight.

Hence, this blog: Clio's Intemperance. Named for the muse of history, the muse of my discipline.

The Muse Clio by Pierre Mignard (1689), Wikimedia Commons
But why the intemperance? What kind of trouble has Clio been up to?

Clio's Intemperance references the historical timelessness that is alcoholic imbibing. Long before written languages came into existence, people have been mashing, brewing, and fermenting all sorts of things. Grain, grapes, figs, maize - just about anything that contains the necessary sugars and starches (with the addition of yeast) needed for fermentation. From pre-history to this present moment, alcohol has been an integral part of human existence - but that co-existence has also resulted in an uneasy and strained relationship throughout the centuries.

For the most part, people and societies have looked down upon the ill-favored state of drunkenness - and yet, the rise of the temperance movement did not appear until the nineteenth century. Why, after so many centuries of regular consumption did certain human societies declare alcohol to be an unnecessary evil? That is the subject of my dissertation...

A Midnight Modern Conversation, William Hogarth (1765), Wikimedia Commons
In the mid-seventeenth century, drinking took a wild turn, largely due to the mass production of spirituous liquors. Almost simultaneously, rum distilling became big business in Caribbean sugar plantations, while the production of gin rapidly grew in England. Of course, brandy was a popular beverage in places like France, and the Irish and Scots were long-time producers of whisk(e)y*, but the overall scale of production for liquors like rum and gin was unprecedented. Suddenly, drunkenness was no longer an occasional annoyance, but it instead developed into a social menace - a true problem requiring constant legal attention.

This is a simplified overview of the events that occurred in the time period I focus on in my dissertation (roughly the 17-18th centuries), but I felt it was necessary to investigate the pre-history of the temperance movement. I also intend to frame alcohol consumption as a foodway. Today, we often forget that alcohol was an important source of calories and nutrition for laborers who could not rely upon access to safe drinking water. In many ways, the temperance movement and Prohibition continue to alter present-day perceptions of alcohol.

As mentioned, I am only at the beginning of this project - I leave for my first trip to the archives tomorrow. It is my hope this blog will serve as a productive sounding board for ideas, understanding sources, and possibly even some discussion.

I welcome you all to provide your thoughts, questions, or contrary arguments as this blog progresses - and I certainly thank you all for taking the time to read my rambling thoughts and inquires.


*Irish and Scotch whisk(e)y feature two different spellings. The Irish, like Americans, include an 'e' in the spelling of 'whiskey' - the Scottish, like Canadians, do not ('whisky').

No comments:

Post a Comment