The Points Interview: Michael Lewis

Editor’s Note: Today’s interview is with Dr. Michael Lewis, author of the new book, The Coming of Southern Prohibition (out now from LSU Press). He is an assistant professor of sociology at Christopher Newport University. Contact Dr. Lewis at mlewis@cnu.edu. 

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Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Coming of Southern Prohibition is a story about profit from liquor sales- who gets it and how the government sometimes uses morality and fear to make rules to ensure they get more of it. In 1892 South Carolina’s Governor Benjamin Tillman did just that, creating a statewide system of liquor stores that kept all the liquor profits for the state and county government. The subsequent decisions that South Carolina counties made about how many liquor stores they should permit and where these ought to be located were influenced as much by the chances of increasing profit than they were by preventing
alcohol sales to the “riff-raff” of society.

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The Points Interview: Mark Hailwood

Editor’s Note: Today’s interview comes courtesy of Mark Hailwood, author of Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England. (Available from Boydell and Brewer, and in paperback later this month!) Contact the author at m.hailwood@exeter.ac.uk or follow him on Twitter @mark_hailwood. You can also follow his blog, Many Headed Monster, on WordPress.

  1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Well, it is a book of particular relevance to bartenders, because it tells the story of the emergence of their institution – at least in the English context – in the years from 1550-1700. It is a book about how and why the English pub became such a central part of our cultural life, which I argue it did for the first time in the period covered by the book. Various incarnations of the ‘pub’ existed before this time, but they were relatively few in number and their main function was to cater to travelers. Communal, recreational drinking took place instead in churchyards and church buildings, and was tied in with feast days and holy days. But after the English Reformation the church became hostile to such activity, and recreational drinkers found a new home in the growing number of alehouses that sprang up in villages and towns all across England.

This rise of the alehouse was a controversial process though: the government in particular were concerned about the effects that recreational drinking had on the work ethic and the political loyalty of its subjects, and they launched an ambitious campaign to try and restrict both the numbers and the functions of alehouses, including introducing a one-hour time limit on drinking in an alehouse. The state martialed all of its resources to try and discipline this emerging institution, but the book shows – through a close study of the regulatory records generated by such efforts – that many publicans and villagers dug their heels in, and ultimately resisted the bulk of regulation directed against them. The reason why so many villagers rallied behind the institution, I argue, is because alehouses had quickly become important sites of what contemporaries called ‘good fellowship’ – a popular and significant form of social bonding, based around choreographed drinking rituals, that appealed to many men and women of both the lower and middles classes.  So, it is a book about the way ordinary villagers fought for and won a place for recreational drinking at the heart of English community life, one that it still holds to this day.

  1. What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

I’d like to hope they might find the whole thing interesting! I have tried to construct it as a coherent overall ‘story’ about the rise of the alehouse which I hope gives it some narrative drive, but it is also an attempt to use a focus on alehouses as a way of highlighting a wide range of broader themes and issues of interest to historians – a kind of ‘prism’ effect. So, for those interested in the ways in which governments attempt to regulate alcohol and drugs it provides a case study of what I would consider one of the first examples of a concerted ‘war on drugs’ (the ‘campaign against the alehouse’). For those interested in ‘moral panics’ about alcohol and drug consumption it offers an insight into another early example, detailing the language and arguments used to condemn alehouse sociability in seventeenth-century England. Scholars interested in the relationship between alcohol or drug consumption and the formation of social identity will find plenty here on the ways in which alehouse ‘good fellowship’ fed into the articulation of individual and collective identities in the period, and historians interested in the ways that gender shapes and is shaped by practices of intoxication might be surprised to find that the alehouse was an important site of mixed-gender forms of sociability. So, in ranging quite widely I’d hope most historians of alcohol and drugs could find at least one angle that would interest them.

  1. Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

I love uncovering colorful vignettes of the everyday lives of ordinary men and women in the past – those tantalising insights into a world that is often very difficult for historians to uncover. So, for me, the most fascinating part of researching and writing the book was turning up lots of examples of sixteenth and seventeenth century villagers engaging in bizarre drinking rituals, scatological political commentary, or touching acts of romance and friendship. I’ve written about quite a few of my favourite ‘alehouse characters’ on my own blog, and the book is packed with them, but I think the most interesting vignette of the lot was the one involving a drinking ritual from 1604, in Essex, in which a village constable led an all-night drinking bout involving a 2 gallon stone drinking vessel nicknamed ‘Fowler’ and ended with a sack placed over one man’s head and the untying of his codpiece. It’s certainly interesting trying to ‘decode’ rituals like this one!

  1. Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

Like many historians I have tried to tell a story about historical change without being an expert on what came before or after the period I’ve studied. I’ve done my best to read up on the late medieval period, but I would love for someone to come along and challenge my overall narrative with a book about the importance of alehouses in medieval England. Likewise, I’ve done some homework on the eighteenth century, but it would be great to see more work done on the role of the alehouse in the years after my book finishes: there is a lot of work on gin in the eighteenth century, largely centred on London, but I’d really like to read a book on the ongoing political, social and cultural significance of the alehouse in England’s eighteenth-century market towns and villages. I’m not really qualified to study these periods myself, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that others will come along to fill in the gaps and provide a much clearer sense of the longer term trajectory of the role played by pubs and recreational drinking in English culture.

 

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

It would be nice to have it read by the English actress Maxine Peake. Given that it is in large part a story about the agency of ordinary people it would be fitting to have a narrator with a working class background, and I would also want to have a female narrator – the ‘pub’ is often thought of as a very masculine environment, but certainly in the seventeenth century it was an important social space for both women and men, so I wouldn’t want too ‘blokey’ a tone set by the narration.  It might be a bit of a step down from her recent role in Hamlet, but she did once play a character in the British sitcom ‘Early Doors’, which was an affectionate homage to the English pub, so I’d like to think she recognizes the historical importance of the institution!

Announcing the latest episode of Poinstcast!

The latest episode of Poinstcast is now available on Soundcloud for your listening pleasure! On this episode, Alex and I introduce a new segment, the Paper Chase, where we unpack the cultural meaning of even silly-sounding news from a not-so-bygone era. We end with a discussion of the “lovable drunk” television trope, particularly on The Bachelor and other reality (“reality”) shows featuring heavy alcohol use. Join us for a meandering conversation about dogs on marijuana, a purported heroin Queenpin in 1940s Chicago, and whether Barney Gumble and Karen Walker are held to a gendered double standard.

As always, feel free to reach out via email at pointscast@gmail.com, post on or message our Facebook page, or find us on Twitter. (#YouVapeBro?)

Conference Summary: “I’ve Been to Dwight,” July 14-18, 2016, Dwight, IL

Editor’s Note: This conference summary is brought to you by David Korostyshevsky, a doctoral student in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. He traveled to Dwight, Illinois, in mid-July to attend the ADHS off-year “I’ve Been to Dwight” conference, and has provided this account of his time there. Thanks David!

On July 14-18, 2016, a group of international alcohol and drug historians descended upon the village of Dwight, Illinois, for an ADHS off-year conference. Conference organizers selected Dwight because 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Keeley Institute.

Founded by Leslie E. Keeley in 1879 (and operating until 1966), the Keeley Institute offered treatment options to patients with addiction, usually alcoholism, including Keeley’s Gold Cure. “I’ve Been to Dwight,” the conference title, references “a catchphrase” former Keeley Institute patients “used to explain their sobriety.”

Keeley

To make it easier to read, this summary is organized thematically. You can see the full conference program here.

I live-tweeted the conference as @rndmhistorian under the hashtag #IBTD16. Also, Janet Olson, volunteer archivist at the Frances Willard Historical Association wrote a blog post about the conference.

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Jews and Brews

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She visited the Jewish Museum Munich in July 2016 and has provided this review of their recent show, “Beer is the Wine of This Land: Jewish Brewery Tales.” Enjoy!

Friends of ADHS may be interested to learn of a new bilingual (German and English) exhibit: “Beer is the Wine of this Land: Jewish Brewery Tales” at the Jewish Museum Munich (Jüdisches Museum München). This event is part of a city-wide celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the “Purity Law” that restricted German beer ingredients to barley, hops, and water (yeast was added later). The exhibit was inaugurated in April 2016 and will run through August 1, 2017. Admission is included in the museum’s general ticket price (6 euros for adults, 3 euros for students and the elderly, free for children under age eighteen).

German Jewish Museum
Jewish Museum Munich exterior and beer garden, summer 2016 (author photo)

The Jewish Museum Munich opened in 2007 in the heart of the old city, next to a new synagogue completed a year earlier (the historic synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht). Observers may notice a (deliberate) contrast to the iconic Jewish Museum of Berlin, which was established in 2001 and is often regarded as a model for similar institutions around the country. Berlin traces the full sweep of Jewish history in Germany and northern Europe, with special attention to the Third Reich (1933-1945) and the Holocaust. The Munich museum, by contrast, does not find it possible to reconstruct Jewish life under the Nazis, citing the lack of surviving artifacts as the primary reason. Instead, the institution seeks to educate the local public and visitors about Jewish culture and experiences—an especially important mission given today’s relatively small local community. On the basement floor, ritual objects from the permanent collection highlight the observances, celebrations, and rhythms of Jewish life.

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Fiction Points: Eileen Cronin

CRONINEileen Cronin is a writer and clinical psychologist. Her book Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience (2014) centers on her search for the truth about her body and the role that the drug thalidomide played in its shape, her childhood in a large Catholic family, her mother’s mental illness, her marriage, and her own struggles with alcohol. In addition to nonfiction, Cronin writes poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Bellevue Literary Review, Los Angeles Times, Third Coast,  and Best American Essays, among other venues. She also writes for The Huffington Post. Mermaid appeared on O, The Oprah Magazine‘s Best Memoirs of 2014 list and Pop Sugar‘s “Must Reads of 2014.” In 2008, Cronin won the Washington Writing Prize for Short Fiction. Her nonfiction has earned her a Pushcart Prize nomination, and her two novels were finalists for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Award for Novels-in-Progress. Cronin serves as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine and lives in Los Angeles. 

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I can’t help but to notice the resemblance between these folks at the bar. But I don’t ask about that, nor do I tell them that I have written about a nun who looked like a penguin when she ran. Instead I tell them what I have in common with them. I write about Catholics, sort of like Alice McDermott but with a bit more of an edge.Read More »

Fiction Points: Chloe Caldwell

Chloe Caldwell in Kingston, NY for Grazia 5/31/14Chloe Caldwell is the author of the novella WOMEN (2014) and the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray (2012). Her work has appeared in VICE, Salon, The Rumpus, The Sun, Men’s Health, several anthologies (including Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York)and elsewhere. Lena Dunham named WOMEN among her 10 Favorite Books in the New York Times, and Caldwell’s work has earned her praise from Bitch Magazine, Buzzfeed Books, The Master’s Review, and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. Coffee House Press/Emily Books will publish her next essay collection, I’ll Tell You in Person, in October 2016.

 

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

This is my worst nightmare. I change what I write about depending on who I’m talking to and what I think they can ingest. I meet them where they are. So female! When I’m talking to a parent’s friend or something, I say, travel essays. I really dislike talking about my work with strangers. It takes away the magic of the work. I suck at talking about my work. I’d rather have it speak for itself. So I’d probably get guarded and weird and tell them I wrote a novella. Then I’d text my friends saying OMFG there’s a penguin and a nun in this bar.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

I’m stumped!

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What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

Because I was using drugs and alcohol and writing about my life. So….was inevitable.

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

The essay I wrote “Heroin and Acne” for Salon is a good example of this. I like exploring gray areas and middle grounds of themes. Our culture always wants people to be black or white: you’re either a drug addict or you’re not. You’re either a lesbian or your straight. I’ve struggled with identity issues throughout my twenties (like everyone) because often I fell in between, and there weren’t many narratives for me to read that were coming from that place, so I wanted to write them.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

WOMENI like how drugs and alcohol inform the narrator’s choices in WOMEN. One event in the book is the narrator moves to a new town to get away from the drugs she’s doing, but she finds Finn and begins an addictive relationship with her. I’m interested in any addictive behaviors. in my own life, in books and films, in my friends’ lives, and I don’t mean with drugs and alcohol specifically—with the internet, chocolate, fruit, exercise, coffee.

I’m not sure where it will lead me in future projects. I don’t do drugs anymore, but I still reflect on them a ton and am always fascinated with them as much as I am with recovery and health. It’s important to me to un-cliche the way addiction and recovery stories are told. The ways people stay physically and mentally healthy are just as if not more fascinating than addiction stories.

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that your novella Women gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

Better Off” by Haim or “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” by Natalie Prass or “Daydreaming” by Dark Dark Dark.

Religion and Anti-Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Brendan Payne, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at Baylor University finishing his dissertation, “Cup of Salvation: Race, Religion, and (Anti-)Prohibition in Texas, 1885-1935.” Enjoy!

Jews and BoozeWhen I tell people that my dissertation addresses religion and alcohol prohibition, many recall stories of relatives involved in the noble experiment. Almost invariably, those who make a point of their ancestors’ religiosity recount how they joined the crusade for prohibition, such as a grandmother who led a chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union or a minister who railed against demon rum, while those who mention their grandfather’s bootlegging have little to comment on his piety. The implicit assumption – that religion inspired only prohibition’s backers and not its opponents – may be too blunt for most scholars to state plainly, though this assumption casts a significant shadow over much of prohibition scholarship. Only a few books, such as Marni Davis’s Jews and Booze, deal in-depth with an overwhelmingly wet religious minority, though even that work is more interested in the tremendously important questions of ethnicity and American identity than in religion as such. Too many academic works on prohibition that address religion either focus almost exclusively on drys or oversimplify the connection between faith and prohibition, with (for example) Catholics always being wet and Baptists invariably dry.

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Politics & Poison: Government Sanctioned Murder During Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Liz Greene, a history geek and an anxiety-ridden realist from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo. Enjoy!

When it comes to failed social experiments in U.S. history, Prohibition takes the cake. Far from ushering in the utopian society promised by the temperance movement, Prohibition only succeeded in making matters much worse.

The new law was met with outright rebellion. Bootleggers made a fortune distilling and selling alcohol. Thousands of speakeasies popped up, serving a thirsty population who cared little for the legality of the situation. Organized crime rose to the forefront, distributing booze, warring with rival gangs, and taking out innocent bystanders in the process. Murder became a familiar headline. [1]

But the mob and unskilled bootleggers weren’t the only ones causing death and destruction during Prohibition. The federal government had a large role to play as well.

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African American Agency and (Anti-)Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Brendan Payne, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at Baylor University finishing his dissertation, “Cup of Salvation: Race, Religion, and (Anti-)Prohibition in Texas, 1885-1935.” Enjoy!

It is no secret that African Americans have received modest scholarly attention when it comes to alcohol prohibition. Some historians have gone so far as to omit African Americans from a significant role in the issue altogether. In his 2010 book Jesus and Gin, Barry Hankins argued that African Americans “either took a pass or were not allowed to participate” on a white culture war issue such as prohibition due to their social marginalization and legally enforced segregation (p. 170). It is true that African Americans were often barred from full political engagement on the issue, especially during his focus on the 1920s, yet many works on prohibition have managed to incorporate African Americans. Most of these works have treated them as peripheral to the narrative, usually either as victims of a prohibition movement arrayed against them or as followers of reformist whites seeking racial uplift through mutual striving. One recent example of the latter perspective is Robert Wuthnow’s 2015 study of religion and politics in Texas, Rough Country. He described prohibition as a policy “of special interest to white churches” and reduced African American ministers’ support for the reform as reactive to white initiative (p. 171). While some attention on prohibition is better than none, such marginal treatment can have the effect of stripping African Americans in the past of their agency, essentially framing them as pawns in a white man’s (and woman’s) game.

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