Sabine N. Meyer
We Are What We Drink: The Temperance Battle in Minnesota (University of Illinois Press, 2015)
A powerful study of identity formation and the power of place in the shaping of history
In We Are What We Drink, Sabine N. Meyer eschews the generalities of other temperance histories to provide a close-grained story about the connections between alcohol consumption and identity in the upper Midwest.
Meyer examines the ever-shifting ways that ethnicity, gender, class, religion, and place interacted with each other during the long temperance battle in Minnesota. Her deconstruction of Irish and German ethnic positioning with respect to temperance activism provides a rare interethnic history of the movement. “At the same time, she shows how women engaged in temperance work as a way to form public identities and reforges the largely neglected, yet vital link between female temperance and suffrage activism. Relatedly, Meyer reflects on the continuities and changes between how the movement functioned to construct identity in the heartland versus the movement’s more often studied roles in the East. She also gives a nuanced portrait of the culture clash between a comparatively reform-minded Minneapolis and dynamic anti-temperance forces in whiskey-soaked St. Paul–forces supported by government, community, and business institutions heavily invested in keeping the city wet.
Ambitious and revelatory, We Are What We Drink offers a powerful study of identity formation and the power of place in the shaping of history.
“Long have we chanted the trinity of race, class, and gender, but only a few scholars have been able to pull off studies that integrate these issues. Meyer, more than almost anyone I can think of, genuinely succeeds. A major contribution, not only to the history of the temperance movement, but to the histories of Irish and German Americans, to the history of women’s movements, and to the interpenetrating history of ethnicity, class, gender, and identity.”–Paul Spickard, author of Race and Nation: Ethnic Systems in the Modern World
“A thoughtful and balanced account. Meyer shows the complexities of ethnicity and the use of temperance and anti-temperance as motifs around which cultural agendas were arranged.”–Ian Tyrrell, author of Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire
“In We Are What We Drink, Sabine Meyer has brewed a heady mix of social and cultural history that will be sure to grace the bookshelves of historians, sociologists, anthropologists and other scholars who are keen to embrace multidisciplinary approaches to our past. This masterfully researched and argued book is broad in scholarly design but deep in its examination of over a hundred years of the temperance movement in one Midwestern American city. It deftly considers developments in class, gender, ethnicity, and locality in Minnesota as it investigates the social, economic, political and cultural topography of St. Paul’s struggles over alcohol and identity. The most enduring impact of this case study will be in its detailed and persuasive analysis of inter-ethnic relations among working and middle-class Irish and German Americans, who in support or in opposition to temperance crafted their own identities through contests over class, power and place in a transforming America. This book is a milestone in the history of social movements and local and regional identities in the U.S.”–Thomas M. Wilson, editor of Drinking Cultures: Alcohol and Identity
Sabine N. Meyer is an assistant professor of American studies at the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Osnabrück.