Clubs have never just been about drinking: as with pubs, they have offered and still do, much more than a pint or three.
The social aspects have been investigated by social scientists, economists, anthropologists and historians over many years with interest in all time periods and societies. Looking at how the ancient Romans drank, for example, with their rules and social norms, can tell us much about their society in terms of age hierarchies and divisions between the sexes as well as social divides between the well-to-do and powerful and those lower down the scale. Shaun Mudd of Exeter University talked about some of these issues at a recent conference at the University of Warwick, organised by the University's Drinking Studies Network (WDSN). Taking place on September 23rd, participants included other members of this Network such as Beat Kumin, Deborah Toner, Mark Hailwood and Matthew Jackson.
Now, a Drinking Studies Networks sounded like a good network to belong to and yours truly here at Club Historians has become an active member.
There is a lot of research and investigation involved as well as writing and presenting our findings. It's quite serious and studious, this drinking business with many layers of interests involved. Apart from social and sociability aspects, clubs and pubs have many economic and even political ones, which members of the WDSN look at, right across the historical spectrum from ancient Rome to modern times.
Professor Gill Valentine came down from Leeds University to discuss some findings of her collaborative research into drinking across the generations. Perhaps not surprisingly, we seem to be drinking more these days than our grandparents, more at home and in many other venues plus some of our drinks are stronger with vodka proving to be very popular. Chris Hackley of Royal Holloway University discussed the hedonism of youth who go out to get blind drunk and are prepared to take many risks in doing so- calculated hedonism I think he called it!
Of course, historians would point out how youth and indeed the not-so-young, used to participate in 'binge drinking' in previous centuries: perhaps it's not so new after all but we are just talking about it much more and because of the media, are much more aware of it.
Such themes and areas of research, plus others, build upon other academic work into drinking and drink establishments that has been conducted across the decades.
Some of these were also addressed at another academic conference in early September, held at the Telford Campus of the University of Wolverhampton. Entitled 'Food and Beverages: Retailing, Distribution and Consumption in Historical Perspective' there were interesting presentations not only on ale, wine, pubs and clubs but also tea, coffee, cakes and chocolate! Have you ever really thought about the history of some of these commodities, for example, and how they have come to play such important roles in our society and also in our economy? The history and politics of these things is fascinating. It's not just about fancy advertising campaigns and trends but about serious business.
Sounds impressive and the range of topics covered certainly was, with talks on biscuits, cafes, Cadburys and of course, beer. There were around 30 participants from UK universities, as well as from other countries. My presentation theme, no surprises here, was on clubs, focusing on their struggle for respectability in the late 19th century and the attempts to distance themselves from drinking dens. It was good to see an interest in clubs and my presentation which fitted in quite nicely with the several others which looked at ale houses in earlier centuries and their various social functions.
Club Historians focuses on clubs and what goes on in them and this offers many areas of investigation and challenges that sit alongside what academics are doing when they look at drinking practices and behaviour, whether in the 17th century or whether in 2011.
I've always said that clubs needed to be taken more seriously and this conference was an opportunity to make links with other research being done in the area of drinking. It was good to hear more about the social benefits of pubs and clubs as well as the economic ones that they bring to local areas as well as to government coffers. Clubs to me have always been about more than beer and bingo and it seems there are others out there who appreciate that with a growing awareness of their importance.
Naturally, members of the drinking studies network had to find the nearest drinking venue to discuss further our shared research themes. It wasn't a club that we found but in the new town of Telford, we managed to find a lovely old pub with real ale. Talking about clubs, pubs and alehouses, is thirsty work and at times, you just have to get a bit of practice at the real thing!
Another conference is to be held in March next year, in London, organised by the British Sociological Association’s Alcohol Study Group. Its title is: Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The ambivalence of alcohol? Now, that looks relevant to me given that clubs are often targeted as traders in sin and deprivation. I’ll have to get my thinking cap on again about drinking.
I expect there will be some drinking involved as well!
The link to the Warwick Drinking Studies Network is- go.warwick.ac.uk/wdsn
Warwick History PhD student Matthew Jackson has shared his memories of working behind a club bar with us. Click here to read it. It’s a great story.
His academic work is summarized below.
Thesis title: Drink and Identity: A Comparative Case Study of Early Modern Bristol and Bordeaux.
Summary: My thesis is a comparative examination of drinking culture in two early modern port cities, Bristol and Bordeaux. With an emphasis on the positive and constructive agency of drink, I explore how drinking practices and spaces constructed a wide range of individual and collective identities within two different political and religious contexts: the ‘individual’ identities of men and women, young and old, formed within drinking houses, and the ‘collective’ community, religious and civic identities formed in relation to them. The thesis addresses a significant gap within the comparative history of drink, but also contributes to current wider areas of historiographical debate including cultural exchange, the dynamics and meanings of personal relationships, the experience of the life cycle, gender, popular political agency, confessional affliction and the impact of religious change.
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