Reflections on a “road” trip

I visited the United Kingdom in February, as I often do, to attend conferences and talks. There is always a lot going on in the medical history and booze and drug policy/history area, so I am always finding myself quite stimulated intellectually by these trips.

This time I added the title of “unofficial university ambassador” to my credentials, since I met the director of internationa student exchanges at University of Kent and paved the way for what looks like adding another university for our students to visit on exchange. And this one in Canterbury, so they’ll get lots of our students there.

But more properly for the topic of this blog, I spoke at three universities, delivering three very different papers to three unique groups and also got to participate in an undergraduate class.

The first was at University of Leicester. There I explored, in more detail than I have on this blog, the connections between post-prohibition liquor control and the advocacy for and advent of marijuan licensing in the United States and (possibly in the future) Canada.  I’ll do a new blog post on that at some point in the future.

Also while at Leicester, I got to sit in on a class on liquor control in North America (mostly in the USA) run by my friend and colleague Deb Toner.  We did a session on the origins of prohibition in the USA, and she had students read the intro to my book Try to Control Yourself as a primer on theoretical framing of this topic.

After class, I was confronted by a student afterwards, who had a pointed question about what I wrote in my preface to that book. The preface was a reflection on my personal intersection with liquor and liquor control. In that reflection I noted that I benefitted from my parents modeling a “healthy relationship” with alcohol. This student asked: “Do you really think an academic can have a healthy relationship with alcohol?” Her stern face took me aback until she assured me she was kidding.

Two days later, at the School of Geography at University College, London, I presented a revised paper on the spatial rationalities of liquor control in Ontario.  This drew somewhat from my chapter on the organzation of the public drinking space, which looked at community layout and internal layout of beverage rooms.  But in the presentation I also used powerpoint to consider the geography of liquor control. I mapped the location of hotel spaces on a Toronto street, and looked at how the nature of those businesses shaped and was shaped by liquor control board decisions. I’m going to work this into a proper academic paper, but suffice it to say that my simple thesis was “you can’t make simple conclusions about a process as complex as liquor control in a diverse province,” which is also a general theme in the book.

Finally, I attended and was a guest speaker at a conference in Bristol on public drinking in the Victorian period.  This brought together historians, geographers, literature folks, art history scholars, and political science types.  They looked at the various ways of viewing and managing the pub in Victorian Britain.

I finished the conference with a paper that was, really, sort of out of place in that conference. My paper, entitled “The half-life of the Victorian saloon” looked at how the gradual transformation of liquor laws in Victorian Ontario was the foundation upon which post-prohibition liquor control was built. So instead of completely reconstructing a new system, the post-prohibtion liquor regulatory system imposed a new bureaucracy upon an older structure. Moreover, I argue that the post-prohibition liquor regulation system was more flexible and designed to be more responsive to the needs of individual communities than the system immediately before prohibition, which had grown increasingly restrictive over half a century.

That is all I’m going to write at this point. I love these visits; I have some good and brilliant colleagues and friends in the UK, and their engagement with liquor and drug regulation is different enough from what we have in Ontario (and Canada more generally) that it always stimulates interesting and thought-provoking discussion.

(And usually this happens at a pub.  It may seem cliched, but it is entirely accurate.)

(c) 2014, Dan Malleck

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