Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Politics of Inebriety – Alcoholism Treatment in Scotland since 1800

Historical Geography Reading Group, 26/09/12

Session 1, Semester 1

The Politics of Inebriety
Alcoholism Treatment in Scotland since 1800
Dr Iain Smith

The reading group kicked off its third year today with invited speaker Dr Iain Smith, a psychiatrist at Gartnavel Royal Hospital, who has a particular interest in the history of his area of expertise, alcohol dependencies. Dr Smith spoke to us for about an hour about the changing methods of alcohol treatment over the last 200 years, outlining various places, acts, ideas and reforms which were to have an influence on the ideas and management of ‘alcoholism’ in Scotland.

Dr Smith was quick to highlight Scotland’s difficult relationship with alcohol, exampling higher consumption and related diseases than in England and Wales, but also noting that Scotland was the seminal place in conceiving alcohol problems as being medical problems (although also recognising the difficulties of labelling ‘alcoholism’ as a disease). Comparisons can be drawn between the work of Dr Smith and David Beckingham, who has written on the history of inebriety in England and Wales.

Different spaces of treatment were discussed, the first being the use of “Island therapy”. Evidence from Luss parish records showed that as early as the 1830s, habitual drunkards were sent to ‘dry’ islands on Loch Lomond and boarded with local families, purely to keep them away from drink. Towards the mid to late 19th century, psychiatry inevitably became involved, and there was shown to be a link between increased alcohol consumption and increasing asylum numbers. Dr Yellowlees of Gartnavel Royal argued in 1872 that half the cases of insanity in Scotland were due to intemperance.

With growing numbers, inevitably there was an increase in the number of laws, inquiries and ‘solutions’. One such experiment was the use of inebriate reformatories, which, like many asylums at the time, were based on moral rather than medical therapy, removing the drunk from the drink. The Scottish inebriate estate was not large. Other solutions included the temperance movement, a shift towards Draconian taxation and restrictions on alcohol sale, particularly during the inter-war years, which saw a massive fall in alcohol consumption.

In our whistle-stop tour of alcohol treatment, Dr Smith took us up to contemporary views on alcohol treatment, arguing for the resurgence of alcohol as a medical concern: increased consumption, increased harm and thus increased treatment. In way of conclusion, it was suggested that throughout Dr Smith’s study period, history had a habit of repeating itself, either through levels of consumption, spaces of treatment, or modes of legislation.

Many thanks to Dr Smith for squeezing us in to his busy timetable and for presenting such a fascinating presentation, to the participants who came along, and to Hazel, Paul and Mhairi for supplying the cakes.

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Black History Month – Black Internationalist Resistance to Fascism

As part of Black History Month, David Featherstone will be leading a talk on black internationalist resistance. Details below:

Black Internationalist Resistance to Fascism: African American Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War

African Caribbean Centre, 66 Osborne Street, Merchant City, Glasgow G1 5QH

Wednesday 3rd October, 6.30pm

This talk considers the importance of transnational black resistance to fascism, particularly in the 1930s. It examines the experiences and political outlooks of the 90 or so African Americans who volunteered to fight in Spain with the Abraham Lincoln Brigades. Drawing on the testimonies of activists such as James Yates, Oscar Hunter and Admiral Kilpatrick it examines how they connected the conflict in Spain to opposition to Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia and to struggles against racism in the United States.With the rise of the far-right in different parts of Europe in the context of economic crisis the talk considers the importance of continued struggles against fascism.

(Optional reading: David Featherstone, Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism, Zed Books, London: 2012)

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New Blog

The Historical Geography Reading Group (HGRG) at Glasgow University has been running for 3 years. We are now going to run a blog which will document our activities and provide information on upcoming meetings and events. The blog will be used to feedback on our monthly meetings and give a feel for some of the lively discussion within the group. This blog will also be used for members to post shorter pieces of writing and provide useful links relating to historical geography.

Hope you enjoy!!

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