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A History

Rod Phillips

Publication Year: 2014

Whether as wine, beer, or spirits, alcohol has had a constant and often controversial role in social life. In his innovative book on the attitudes toward and consumption of alcohol, Phillips surveys a 9,000-year cultural and economic history, uncovering the tensions between alcoholic drinks as healthy staples of daily diets and as objects of social, political, and religious anxiety.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-5

Ever since humans began to consume alcohol, they have had a difficult relationship with it. Alcohol is a colorless liquid that has, in itself, no material, cultural, or moral value. But like many other commodities, it has been ascribed complicated and often contradictory sets of values that have varied...

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1. Alcohol in Ancient Worlds: Nature and the Human Hand

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pp. 6-24

We can trace alcoholic beverages made by humans to about 7000 BC, nine millennia ago, but it is almost certain that prehistoric humans consumed alcohol in fruits and berries many thousands of years earlier than that. When fruits and berries pass the point of optimum ripeness and sweetness and start...

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2. Greece and Rome: The Superiority of Wine

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pp. 25-44

Beer was the drink of the masses throughout much of the ancient world, but it was not consumed at all in Greece and Roman Italy, the only societies to produce cereals without using them to brew beer. Climatic conditions on the two peninsulas (and their associated islands) were far more suitable for...

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3. Religion and Alcohol: The Paths of Christianity and Islam

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pp. 45-65

The relationship between alcohol and religion began thousands of years ago. As we have seen, much of the earliest evidence of alcohol, whether in China or the Middle East, has been found in contexts suggesting it was used in religious ceremonies of various kinds. In many ancient and classical cultures...

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4. The Middle Ages, 1000–1500: The Birth of an Industry

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pp. 66-86

From about AD 1000, changes in the political, economic, and cultural landscapes of Europe brought about significant shifts in the social position of alcohol and in drinking cultures. After the four or five centuries of turmoil that followed the migrations of easterners into western Europe and the disintegration...

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5. Early Modern Europe, 1500–1700: Alcohol, Religion, and Culture

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pp. 87-109

The early modern period, from about 1500 to the eighteenth century, saw alcohol firmly entrenched in the daily diets of European populations but also witnessed immense changes in the types of alcohol available. Distilled spirits, with their much higher alcohol levels, had been made in Europe for...

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6. Distilled Spirits, 1500–1750: Threats to the Social Order

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pp. 110-131

Until the end of the Middle Ages, the alcoholic beverages consumed in Europe were produced solely by fermentation. By far the most important were beer and wine, although mead, cider, and other fruit-based wines were also consumed in the regions where they were produced. Alcoholic beverages...

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7. European Alcohol in contact, 1500–1700: Non-European Worlds

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pp. 132-152

Alcoholic beverages did not originate in Europe, but in the thousand years up to 1500, they became entrenched in European popular and elite cultures to an extent that was not only unprecedented but also unparalleled anywhere else in the contemporary world. Even though large numbers of Europeans...

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8. Europe and America, 1700–1800: Alcohol, Enlightenment, and Revolutions

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pp. 153-172

In 1797, Benjamin Rush, physician, vineyard investor, temperance advocate, and signatory to the American Declaration of Independence, published what has become one of the best-known documents in the history of American alcohol: “A Moral and Physical Thermometer: A scale of the progress of...

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9. Alcohol and the City, 1800–1900: Class and Social Order

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pp. 173-191

Although there was no general pattern in alcohol consumption throughout Western society during the nineteenth century—it rose in some countries and fell in others, and there were regional and demographic variations in all—a common thread in alcohol discourse throughout Europe and North...

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10. The Enemies of Alcohol, 1830–1914: Temperance and Prohibition

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pp. 192-215

For thousands of years, concerns had been expressed about the harmful effects of alcohol on human health and social order, but they were mere murmurs when compared with the furor of the attack on alcohol that rose during the nineteenth century. Temperance societies appeared in the 1830s, and fifty...

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11. Alcohol and Native Peoples, 1800–1930: Race, Order, and Control

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pp. 216-239

While alcohol was under attack by temperance and prohibition advocates in Europe, Europeans were channeling vast volumes of alcohol into their overseas empires, where, along with textiles, beads, and guns, it was used as a trading commodity. The flow of alcohol swelled during the nineteenth century...

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12. The First World War, 1914–1920: The Battles against Alcohol

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pp. 240-255

The First World War (1914–18) was a turning point in European and global history. It destroyed great empires, radically redrew Europe’s political boundaries, altered the global balance of power, forced governments to mobilize state power, and ushered in new social policies. The war was also a watershed...

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13. Prohibitions, 1910–1935: Noble Experiments, Ignoble Failures

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pp. 256-278

The word “prohibition” is often shorthand for prohibition in the United States, the national policy in force from 1920 to 1933 that banned the production and sale of beverage alcohol throughout the country. This period, together with the antialcohol movements that led to it, has dominated American...

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14. After Prohibitions, 1930–1945: Normalizing Alcohol

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pp. 279-299

The first two decades of the twentieth century saw more systematic restrictions placed on alcohol production and consumption than the preceding two millennia. They included the noble and not-so-noble experiments with prohibition in Russia/the Soviet Union and the United States and the quasi-prohibition...

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15. Alcohol in the Modern World: Trends in Regulation and Consumption

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pp. 300-316

In the postwar world, alcohol consumption and policies have reflected broad social, cultural, and economic shifts as well as specific national and local conditions. They include the baby-boom generation and the decline of fertility rates, which transformed the age structures of almost all Western populations...

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pp. 317-322

In a survey of alcohol cultures—which embody the ways alcohol is perceived, valued, and consumed—in many regions over hundreds and thousands of years, the one constant that appears to be present, regardless of time and place, is that alcohol was a highly contested commodity. On one hand, it...


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pp. 323-350

Select Bibliography

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pp. 351-364


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pp. 365-370

E-ISBN-13: 9781469617626
E-ISBN-10: 1469617625
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469617602
Print-ISBN-10: 1469617609

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Alcohol -- Social aspects -- History.
  • Drinking of alcoholic beverages -- Social aspects -- History.
  • Alcoholic beverage industry -- History.
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