Marooned On An Island Monographs: A History of Drinking Reading List

Mark Hailwood

With the school holidays imminent it seemed like a good time to offer another instalment of our summer series of beach books for the historically inclined. I would understand, albeit with a tinge of sadness, if you thought the social, economic or religious histories of early modern England were a bit sober for those long hot afternoons by the pool. But perhaps if I put on my other hat for this list – as a historian of drinking culture – I might be able to offer some suggestions more fitting to be consumed alongside a few cheeky cocktails. So here are my top 5 suggestions for a crash course on the history of drinking…


1) Peter Clark, The English Alehouse: A Social History, 1200-1830 (1983)

Best consumed with pint and crisps in a sunny beer garden

Best consumed with pint and crisps in a sunny beer garden

Start with this, one of the founding texts of the drinking studies field. It is vividly detailed, chronologically broad, and written to appeal to specialist and non-specialist alike. And who can really claim to have any grasp of English history without knowing the history of its most prized institution, the pub? Its more focused on the socio-economic history of the alehouse than on drinking culture per se, but despite being written before the ‘cultural turn’ that has ignited the drinking studies field it remains a go-to text for historians, sociologists and literary scholars alike. And Clark deserves credit for pioneering the serious study of drinking at a time when such a project would have been widely sniffed at by many of his fellow historians.



2) B. Ann Tlusty, Bacchus and Civic Order: The Culture of Drink in Early Modern Germany (2001)

You scratch my Bacchus...

You scratch my Bacchus…

This is one of the two books (the other being Tom Brennan’s Public Drinking and Popular Culture in Eighteenth-Century Paris, just edged out of this list) responsible for fermenting (ahem) the current vogue for examining past drinking cultures. In this case study of the German city of Augsburg, Tlusty rejects the long-standing ‘drink-as-despair’ model for interpreting drink history—that people in the past drank in proportion to how miserable their lives were—and instead offers one of the first attempts to examine the reasons why people drank in the past from their own perspective. Combining the examination of colourful legal records and the German ‘Trinkliteratur’ print genre, her findings suggest drinking was often seen by early moderns as a positive and important cultural activity. Fascinating, original and highly readable, it has provided a template for much of what has followed.


3) James Nicholls, The Politics of Alcohol: A History of the Drink Question in England (2009)

A history of the 'drink question'

A history of the ‘drink question’

Ostensibly a survey of public debates on alcohol from the Reformation to the present, this book is really much more than that. It provides a great starting point for the non-specialist, offering an overview of the controversial place of alcohol in English society, culture and politics over the past 500 years. It’s another very readable work, contains useful sketches of all the key historical moments, and plenty of handy quotes and facts for fleshing out a lecture. I regularly find myself reaching for it: it’s a must have reference guide to the history of drinking in England, and a good choice for anyone looking for a historical perspective on today’s debates.



4) David Hancock, Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste (2009)

Oceans of wine? Anyone fancy a swim...

Oceans of wine? Anyone fancy a swim…

I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually read this from cover to cover yet, but every time I dip into it I get excited. And I would certainly be taking it with me to a subtropical island, not least because it is about one. It takes as its starting point Madeira, the Portuguese archipelago situated in the North Atlantic, and tells the story—lucidly from the bits I’ve sampled—of the wine produced and traded from there, focusing in particular on its consumption in North America. It uses a favourite technique of mine, zooming in on one commodity, individual or institution to illuminate a much larger historical process: here using Madeira to explore the development of global commerce in the early modern period. Its scope is remarkable, ranging across chemistry, anthropology, material culture, and the relationship between individuals and market forces: it has all the makings of a tour de force to get lost in for a week.


5) Phil Withington and Angela McShane (eds) Cultures of Intoxication: A Past and Present Supplement (2014)

The intellectual equivalent of a global pub crawl

The intellectual equivalent of a global pub crawl

Not technically a monograph, but no crash course reading list would be complete without pointing you in the direction of the most cutting-edge work in the field, and this collection is just that. Securing a special edition of the venerable journal Past and Present represents a major landmark for the field of drinking studies, a mark of recognition that the subject is now taken very seriously indeed. And who better to carry the banner than Withington and McShane, two of its greatest champions. The former’s introduction provides a persuasive rationale of why the field is so important, and a useful overview of all the developments it has seen and is seeing. The other chapters lead the reader on an exhilarating journey from the ancient Greek symposium, through the ambivalence surrounding alcohol in the Islamic Middle East, to the drinking rituals of Amerindians and the drinking vessels used by seventeenth-century English Royalists toasting the King’s good health. It’s the intellectual equivalent of an epic pub crawl. But it leaves no hangover, and for a limited time only is still available to both peruse and download for free, from here. Get there quick though, as free access ends at the end of July.

So there you go, my suggestions for some summer reading on the history of drinking: as ever, I’d love to hear your own alternatives in the comments section…

Happy Blogiversary! The Monster is Two

Apparently a ‘blogiversary’ is a thing. It is, no doubt, another one of those neologisms that will make many of you cringe. But its also an excuse for a bit of fun, so we are going to take the chance to celebrate the fact that the many-headed monster is now two-years old! And what better way to celebrate than with a virtual cake and some statistics?!

Let them eat cake!

Let them eat cake!

It all started back on 18th July 2012, with Brodie’s first post in his ‘Norwich Entertainments‘ series, about the providential messages inherent in the parading of a hairy child and a boneless girl around the city. Over the first two weeks we averaged a modest but respectable 10 hits a day.

Since then we have received over 53,500 hits on the blog, spread across 122 posts, complete with 685 comments, at closer to an average of 100 hits per day. These hits have come, somewhat unbelievably, from 140 countries! Less surprisingly most of our readers come from the UK, the US, Canada and Australia – though Germany and France are also well represented in our viewing statistics. India also makes the top ten.

More low-calorie virtual cake, anyone?

More low-calorie virtual cake, anyone?

Our top five most popular posts are all from our ‘History from Below’ online symposium held last summer. Laura’s post on John Dee’s Conversations with Angels is the most popular outside of that event. We summarised some of the other most popular posts in our 100th post recently if you want to know more.

One of the more curious things about our blog statistics are some of the unusual search terms that have led readers to the site. ‘Okapi’ has introduced no less than 11 unsuspecting stripy-animal enthusiasts into the world of early modern history (courtesy of Laura’s posts on the use of analogy in history writing). A search for ‘dirty mind of young sally’ has sent 9 browsers into our midst – and I think we would rather not know how or why.

Much more innocently the search ‘be nice to archivists’ has produced 8 visitors: certainly a sentiment we are happy to be logarithmically associated with. ‘Male hunk zodiac signs’ rather less so. Although, if this search produced a link to the John Dee post we’d like to think he would have been flattered…

So there you go: two-years of the ‘unruly sort of clowns’ and other early modern peculiarities. Some people out there seem to think the age of the blog is coming to an end. Others that they are an increasingly important component of being a historian in the 21st century. Whichever way the wind may be blowing we’re hoping to have many more blogiversaries if you, our beloved readers, keep coming back. Thanks for all the views, comments and tweets: we hope you’re enjoying the blog half as much as we are.

The Many-Headed Monster

Memorial and History, appendix i; in which Jonathan jumps on Laura’s bandwagon…

Jonathan Willis

This short post is inspired by Laura’s brilliant mini-series on ‘Memorial and History’, which took its own inspiration from her discovery of Exeter’s 1909 memorial to the Marian martyrs Thomas Benet and Agnes Prest.

Hearing Laura talk about Exeter made me curious about the city where I was born and raised, and which bears the somewhat ignominious dual-honour of being the location of the first documented case of medieval blood-libel (a false accusation of ritual murder against the Jewish community), and also of witnessing the execution of one of the first evangelical martyrs of the reformation. Continue reading

Marooned On An Island Monographs: An Early Modern Economic History Reading List

Brodie Waddell

Inspired by Mark and Jonathan’s posts, I started thinking about what classic books I would take with me if I was marooned on a pleasant beach somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. My true list would have a fair bit of overlap with theirs, so I thought I’d better make it unique by focusing on a different subtopic, namely economic history.

As you’ll see, I’m not really a proper number-crunching economic historian, but I do spend a fair bit of my time thinking about economic life in this period, and these are the books that have proved particularly invaluable or inspiring. It’s a bit more difficult to pick monographs for this particular sub-discipline as it tends to be oriented towards articles. In fact, if you’re looking for the latest research that’s probably the place to go. To get a sense of the sort of excellent work going on right now, take a look at recent articles by people like Amy Erickson, Jane Humphries or Marjorie McIntosh. If, on the other hand, you’d just like to lay on the sand with some classics, try these… Continue reading

Marooned on an Island Monographs: an English Reformation Summer Reading List

Jonathan Willis

Well, term has ended, and having been really struck by Mark’s idea of an early modern social history desert-island-style summer reading list, it got me to thinking: what are the five must-read books I would pick for my own specialism, the English Reformation?  This is also the time of year when I start to get emails from students who are taking my modules in the autumn and keen to make an early start preparing for the new academic year.  This post is therefore dedicated to them, and I might well direct a few of them this way! Continue reading

Marooned On An Island Monographs: An Early Modern Social History Summer Reading List

Mark Hailwood

It is the last day of term here in Oxford, and my thoughts have started to drift to what I might find time to read over the upcoming summer months. This is a purely fictional premise of course, for my summer is already booked up with conferences to attend, writing deadlines to meet, book indexes to compile: casual reading is unlikely to get much of a look in. Still, I thought I would indulge myself by thinking about some of the history books I would take with me if I was going to be marooned on an island between now and the resumption of term in the autumn (a nice idea huh? Someone should make a radio show along these lines…)

Marooned ReadingTo stop myself getting carried away I’ve imposed some fairly strict conditions: I have chosen only 5, and I’ve decided to stick to books in my specialist subject area. It’s a bit of a niche collection, I admit, but even narrowing down this list was hard enough! So, for anyone looking for a summer crash course in early modern English social history…. Continue reading

Monster Mini-Series

The ‘monster now has a number of long running ‘mini-series’ – collections of posts that are grouped around a particular theme, topic, or source collection. For your delectation we now bring you a list of the said mini-series, with a brief description of the contents of each. For future reference the link is just up there, on the right end of the menu bar. Happy browsing!