Drinking cultures: the cultural reception of medical developments related to alcohol in Ireland, 1700-1900

Year of award: 2022


  • Dr Lucy Cogan

    University College Dublin, Ireland

Project summary

The period 1700-1900 saw the development of many new constructions of 'problem' drinking signified by terms such as 'intemperance,' 'inebriety,' 'dipsomania' and 'alcoholism.' During this period Ireland was under British rule and the perception that Irish people were excessively fond of alcohol raised questions about their capacity for self-governance and rationality. This cultural context meant that new alcohol-related medical frameworks became implicated in an existing socially biased and politically-charged discourse. The health impacts of this medico-cultural interaction have been observed in Ireland into the twentieth century (Mauger; Cox). However, the mutually constructive nature of this relationship demands scrutiny of the understudied cultural dimension.

As the first large-scale examination of the cultural side of this medico-cultural interrelation, this project will proceed in three phases:

1. the project will assemble a corpus of alcohol-related medico-scientific texts

2. the project will then track their circulation in Irish culture through contemporary library catalogues and records to gauge their cultural penetration

3. the project will synthesise this circulation information with an analysis of representations of disordered drinking in a wide range of literary sources (fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, private letters, and life-writing) to reveal the changing nature of this interchange at a formative time in Ireland's history.