Call for Papers: Wine Culture in the Transnational World

For its 2012 annual conference, the Centre for Diaspora & Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto presents “Foodways, Diasporic Diners, Transnational Tables, and Culinary Connections,” Thursday October 4 – Sunday, October 7, 2012. Panel Description: “Wine Culture in the Transnational World” I am interested in showcasing work that introduces critical concepts to the study …

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The Points Interview: Marni Davis

Today’s “Points Interview” features Marni Davis, author of Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition.  Marni Davis is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Georgia State UniversityJews and Booze, the twentieth installment in the interview series, features a fantastic cover design (see below) and some really interesting reflections on alcohol, ethnic, and “American” identities.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

Cover of Marni Davis' Jews and Booze
NYU Press, 2012

The subtitle – Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition – does the heavy lifting. This book is about an immigrant group’s process of adapting to life in the United States, and it focuses on a time when alcohol became one of the main sources of conflict between Jewish immigrant communities and native-born, white Protestant Americans. Jews and Booze asks: what happens when the cultural attachments and economic practices immigrants bring with them to their new home are seen as incompatible with American conventions? An examination of Jews’ involvement in the production and sale of alcohol, and their outspoken defense of its legal availability, during the years of the prohibition movement’s rise and fall provides an opportunity to watch acculturation, and the redefining of Jewish identity and tradition, in action. It was a messy, lurching process – especially at this time when American culture was itself undergoing such dramatic transformation.

What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

I’d hope that my account of economic anti-Semitism within the prohibition movement would be of interest. Accusations that Jews had achieved “domination” or “mastery” over the alcohol industry in the early twentieth century reflected broader concerns about their presence in the American economy. Anti-Semitism and prohibitionism each provided a framework for Americans to express alarm about the increasingly urban and commercial nature of the American economy. Negative attitudes toward alcohol commerce overlapped, and eventually intertwined, with animosity toward Jewish commercial conduct as Jews’ visible involvement in the alcohol traffic – especially in cities central to the liquor trade, like Louisville, Cincinnati, and Peoria – seemed to confirm American suspicions about Jewish economic behavior. Claims that Jews monopolized this controversial commodity, and were aggressively distributing and promoting an immoral product, mirrored broader concerns about their presence in the American economy, and seemed to manifest the erosion of white Protestants’ political, economic, and cultural dominance.

I should say here that I don’t mean to imply that the entire anti-alcohol movement hinged on anti-Jewish sentiment. For drug and alcohol historians, this is not a “game-changer.” But I aspire for my contribution to the literature to help make the case that the politics of temperance and prohibition were never only about alcohol consumption.

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