A group of about 50 scholars met in early April at the idyllic Centro Stefano Franscini Conference Center at Monte Verità, over-looking Lake Maggiore in Ascona, Switzerland, to explore the enticing topic of Global Anti-Vice Activism in the late 19th and early 20th century—Fighting Drink, Drugs, and Venereal Diseases. The conference suggested a revival of an old topic–conceived in an entirely new way. Organized by Harald Fischer-Tiné and Jana Tschurenev from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the conference was an outgrowth of their major collaborative research project on anti-alcohol movements at the turn of the century. The site was particularly appropriate. Monte Verità was originally founded in the late nineteenth century as a vegetarian and nudist commune and later attracted a wide range of political, artistic, and intellectual radicals.
The participants remained safely clothed, but Monte Verità’s radical tradition was very much in evidence in a rich program of papers and in three days of intense conversation and discussion. Well-known alcohol and drug historians, David Courtwright and Emmanuel Akyeampong, presented two of the keynotes, but responding to the conference theme, both explored larger themes of vice and anti-vice. The organizers had sought explicitly to situate their own particular interest in anti-alcohol campaigns in a wider historical context in which global organizations and networks defined and redefined vice and struggled to regulate and suppress it.