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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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.

Green 1

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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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The Past as Pregaming: A Review of the National Archives Museum’s “Spirited Republic”

A pensive stone figure sits outside the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C., atop a platform reading, “what is past is prologue.” But if a new exhibit, “Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History,” is any indication, perhaps it should more appropriately read, “what is past is pregame.”

Past is prologue

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Will I Be A Dope Doctor When I Grow Up?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome Kim Sue, a previous contributor (check out her earlier posts here and here), medical anthropologist, and dual degree MD/PhD candidate at Harvard University. On the heels of Points’ recent posts about the difficulties of reconciling clinical and scholarly perspectives on addiction treatment and the media frenzy about the recent prescription opioid epidemic, Sue offers a historical and ethical reflection on having the power to dispense prescriptions.

I first met Anita in the Boston jail where she was doing time for passing bad checks related to a prescription opioid addiction. She had first been introduced to opioids after giving birth to her first child several years earlier. “I was prescribed percs [percocets] for pain related to the delivery,” Anita explained. “I just remember taking them and being high and cleaning … I took four or five at a time.” Anita’s drug use spiraled out of control, as her physiological tolerance to the opioids increased and she needed to buy more and more pills to get the same effect. One day, Anita’s dealer offered her heroin, and off she went.

Ethnographers and historians of drug use are all too familiar with stories that resemble Anita’s. As an anthropologist who studies prisons and addiction treatment, I find it relatively easy to point the finger at doctors for their professional complicity in “epidemics” of opioid addiction.

But as a medical student in my final year, destined to start residency in July in an internal medicine-primary care program, I also worry I won’t be able to refuse prescriptions for opioids for patients presenting to me in distress and pain.

Historians of medicine and drug use have detailed how physicians—whether they wanted to or not—became central to the distribution and administration of opioids in the United States. In the wake of the Harrison Narcotics Act, addicts had to obtain prescriptions for their drugs, and so-called “dope doctors” would provide them for cash. The alternative to the dope doctor was the street druggist, the so-called “pusher.”

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Laudanum (image via Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images)

 

Doctors and opiates have a long, complex history. In the era of magical formulations, Dr. Thomas Syndenham compounded laudanum by mixing “two ounces of opium and one ounce of saffron dissolved in a pint of Canary or sherry wine” with a “drachm of cinnamon powder and of cloves powder,” as historian Richard Davenport-Hines noted in his history of the subject. At the time, opiates (plus or minus alcohol) were among the few medicines that were actually effective pain relievers (working at the μ pain receptors in the brain). They were instrumental in bolstering the medical profession’s emerging reputation for dispensing effective interventions rather than simply bearing witness to suffering. Indeed, enterprising pharmacists and doctors alike created their own patented formulations of various narcotics marketed as cure-alls– a mix of magic, profiteering, and chemistry.

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Beyond “Damp Feminism”: Thoughts on the UVa Rape Scandal and Campus Drinking Trends

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is written by Points contributing editor Michelle McClellan.

Like many others, I read the story in Rolling Stone magazine about a gang rape at the University of Virginia with a sense of mounting horror. Then, when I began to hear hints and then assertions that the victim’s story might not hold up, I felt angry and confused—for a lot of reasons. The fallout from this story and its aftermath has been extensive, and will likely change again before you read these words. The cover page of the December 5, 2014 Chronicle of Higher Education includes the headline “UVa Rocked by Account of Rape” but that is overshadowed on the page by a photo of recycling bins heaped high with Bud Light cans to illustrate a special report called “Alcohol’s Hold on Campus.” How, if at all, do these stories go together?

 

The Rolling Stone story

The Rolling Stone story

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