Keeps your head cool and your belly warm Alcohol and Health in Colonial British India

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Thursday 25 January
6 pm
Room 16, Medecroft, King Alfred Campus, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester, Hampshire SO22 4NR

​The history of the British Empire in India is one sodden with alcohol. Drinking variously greased the wheels of commerce, eased the burden of colonial service, and acted as cause and remedy for multiple illnesses and ailments.

The importance of alcohol in colonial India is likewise reflected in its cultural output, with the diaries, memoirs, and novels produced by Anglo-Indian writers from the nineteenth century onwards similarly awash with drink, from beer to brandy and beyond, depending on social context or the particular ailment the individual wished to avoid or ameliorate. However, whilst often considered a social necessity, alcohol was also a source of considerable cultural and imperial anxiety, both in terms of its effects on the health of British troops and on the perception of British prestige.​

Using courts martial proceedings, medical reports and other sources drawn from the India Office Archives, this paper will argue that alcohol was a paradoxical substance in the context of colonial British India, regarded as an evident source of personal and broader public risk, yet at the same time still used regularly in medical practice and perceived as vital to the preservation of health in both lay and professional contexts. Exploring examples from the Indian Civil Service, the Indian Army and the East India Company, the paper will also examine the efforts to strike a balance between supply and restriction of alcohol in a colonial setting, as well as the variable circumstances that resulted in either punishment or treatment for alcohol abuse.

This talk will be given by Dr Sam Goodman, Bournemouth University.

Speaker Bio:

Dr. Sam Goodman is Senior Lecturer in English & Communication at Bournemouth University. His research interests focus on formations of Britishness in relation to literature and medical humanities, particularly around the history and legacy of the British Empire. He is the author of British Spy Fiction & the End of Empire (2015), and editor of Medicine, Health & the Arts: Approaches to Medical Humanities (2014), both published with Routledge, and was a BBC/Arts and Humanities Research Council New Generation Thinker for 2015-16.

This event is part of the Centre for Medical History. For more information about the centre, click here

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