Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Book from NYU Press

I was recently asked by the editor of my second book (which is on American Religious History for New York University Press), if I would like to take a look at a book that had recently been published by the press about Prohibition.  I of course accepted, and now that I have had chance to finish it, thought that I would offer my reflections on it.

Written by Marni Davis of Georgia State University, Jews and Booze is a very important addition to the growing scholarship on Prohibition.  Indeed, it is a needed addition.  For one, it focuses on how Jews (both those who were recent immigrants and those who were native born) dealt with a reform that was almost entirely the creation of America's evangelical Protestants.  As such, it gives readers yet another perspective on how immigrant groups (both as individuals from somewhere else and as a people with different cultural and religious perspectives) dealt with the call for reform.  And while there is much correlation between how Roman Catholics and Jews reacted to Prohibition (from defiance to grudging acceptance to even support), there are also important differences that further enlighten readers on late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.

But the book is more than just another spin on reform/reaction in the age of Prohibition.  It also delves, quite strongly and quite importantly, into the economics of immigrant culture.  Not only was alcohol (Kosher wine in particular) a part of Jewish religious practice, but it was also a business that many Jewish immigrants had a history of being a part of.  And, perhaps most importantly, alcohol was a business that was a very easy one for immigrants to be a part of.  And so for Jews, being involved with alcohol (whether in terms of consumption or as a business) also raised important issues about how Americanized Jews could, would, and should become once Prohibition took off as a reform.  These are important areas of inquiry and Davis should be commended for both raising and dealing with them.

She should also be praised for not just confining her study/examples to the New York City metropolitan area exclusively.  Readers will also find a good deal of discussion of Jews in the South (particularly Atlanta).  This allows her to explore a wide variety of issues, including how Protestants reacted to Jews in two very different regions of the country, how "damp" areas like New York were different than "dry" areas like Georgia, and what some or maybe even all of this meant to African Americans.  While many will see Davis' book's chief strength as being the economic advancement available to immigrants via alcohol (and what it meant for both group cohesion as well as discussion over Americanization), for me, this comparative matrix was by far more significant.

As for my own work, it further solidifies some of the general findings I make in Prohibition is Here to Stay.  Drys were not, out of hand anti-immigrant, but they did have a vision for American culture that often clashed with immigrants who were attempting to preserve their ethnic identity alongside their new American one.  While the number of Jews in Indianapolis was small (indeed, I was only able to find enough information to provide a brief explanatory footnote on them), Davis' work comes as neither a surprise nor as a revelation to what I am sure was going on in Indiana's Jewish communities as well.

In the end, this is an important book.  One that yet again reminds us that there is still much more to be done with the dry crusade.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Attorney General

In the December 2011 issue of the Indiana Magazine of History there is an article by Ann Gilliom Verbeek about her grandfather, Arthur Gilliom.  Entitled "An Indiana Attorney General in the Prohibition Era" the article is a good discussion, from Gilliom's perspective of his four years as Indiana's attorney general, including his battles with Shumaker.  A very nice read!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Talking Prohibition at the Rathskeller

 Last night I had the honor of taking part in a public discussion about Prohibition.  Sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council and the Indiana Historical Society, a special "Chew on This" event was held around the city.  The venues were largely historic eateries/bars, and the topic of conversation was on Prohibition's legacy, inspired by Ken Burn's PBS miniseries.  My venue was the Rathskeller, the German bar and restaurant in the historic Athenaeum.

In some senses, this was taking the dry message into the heart of enemy territory, literally.  In Shumaker's time, the neighborhood around the Rathskeller was the heart of Indianapolis's German neighborhood.  Nearby St. Mary's Catholic Church was the "German parish", while just down the way is Lockerbie United Methodist Church (where German Protestants worshiped).

The Athenaeum was the center of German life and culture in the city.  Included in the founders were the Vonnegut and Lieber families.  Author Kurt Vonnegut's bust adorned the room (the Vonnegut Room) we were in, his father's family had helped design and build the Athenaeum.  His maternal grandfather was Albert Lieber, who headed the Indianapolis Brewing Company and headed a national brewing association in the years before Prohibition as well.

The event went very well.  There were about thirteen people (including one of my former Butler students) gathered for our conversation, complete with drinks and good German apps!  There were many good questions and nice conversation over the course of about an hour and a half.  After our time together, we went upstairs to be joined by the other participants (one nice thing about the Rathskeller as a venue, we didn't have to go anywhere else) for a burlesque show, complete with historic actors from the Historical Society's "Prohibition" exhibit (complete with police officers and WCTU advocates).

If this is my final "Shumaker" event, it was a great way to end it.  Of course, I thought that in January at AHA, and again in July (when I spoke at the Indiana Historical Society), so I guess we'll see!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Burns and Novicks' Prohibition

I was asked by the Alcohol Drug Historical Society's blog Points to offer commentary on a portion of Ken Burn's "Prohibition" miniseries for PBS.  It was an honor to do so.  In the main, the miniseries was good....but only as a launching point for further discussion.  In large part, this has to do with being confined to just 3 nights.  But in other ways it has much more to do with what some of the assumptions behind the miniseries to begin with.

Here is my take on Episode 3:

One of the nice things about the miniseries though has been an increase in discussion about Prohibition.  Here is a recent article from the Indianapolis Star:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Capstone

Today I was honored to be able to speak at the 125th Annual American Historical Association Meeting.  It was a great way to cap off a year of speaking about Shumaker!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Shumaker Returns to Hamilton County

In 1920, as Prohibition dawned across the nation, Shumaker opted to ring in the enactment of the 18th Amendment in Hamilton County.  As readers of this blog know, in 2010, one of the first speaking engagements I had about my book was with a local history club in Hamilton County.  Last night, I brought the year to a close by speaking to the Hamilton County Historical Society.  It was a fun event, filled with good food, good conversation, and a good historic setting (the Noblesville Masonic Lodge, which was built in the early 20th century).

My talk centered on Shumaker's, and the dry crusade in general, many connections to Hamilton County.  In many respects, it is one of the best places in the state to understand just how complex the dry crusade (and the wet reaction to it) was.  It is also a place to discuss how drys could become associated with the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s (the Historical Society's museum is the former jail, where you can visit D.C. Stephenson's cell: , and what that ultimately meant to drys like Shumaker.  As always, the questions were great...ranging from George Washington, to law enforcement, to ethenoyl!

It was a nice way to wrap up the year.  Now it is time to get ready to write final exams, which I'll be grading next week!