Thursday Lecture Series

Productivity Under the Influence: Liquor Rations and Labor Mgmt in the 19th Century Atlantic World

Thursday, The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Countless histories of alcohol have focused on efforts to restrict its consumption across the Anglo-American world in the nineteenth century.  And yet the era that witnessed the rise of the temperance movement and the first calls for prohibition was also a period in which numerous anti-temperance arguments proliferated.  This talk unpacks one such argument—the widespread but understudied contention that the working poor worked harder under the influence of regulated quantities of alcohol.  By examining the practice of issuing liquor rations aboard British warships and on American slave plantations, I will probe how labor supervisors in both settings operated on the assumption that alcohol could and did increase workplace productivity.  In doing so, I will suggest that making sense of managed intemperance as a strategy for extracting labor helps us to consider anew the historical relationship between extra-economic coercion and economic development in the nineteenth-century Atlantic world.