Lecture #6 – Moonshine in the Making

Moonshine in the making? Exploring the role of alcohol in early modern Ulster and the American backcountry

Guest Speaker:
Audrey Horning,
College of William & Mary


Alcohol has long been central to cultural mythology about the Scotch Irish of the southern American backcountry. From nineteenth-century local colour literature to David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, the eighteenth-century Ulster Scots migrants and their descendants have been routinely portrayed as unnaturally fond of distilled spirits – a cultural characteristic decidedly at odds with more recent constructions of Ulster Scots history and identity in Northern Ireland. Reconsideration of alcohol production and consumption in early modern Ireland and in the southern American backcountry clearly reveals that these dichotomous portrayals reflect the preoccupations of their creators far more than they reflect past actualities. For example, archaeological and documentary evidence from seventeenth-century Ulster underscores the ways in which the liminal space of the alehouse served as a locus for intercultural discourse; a place where relationships between Irish, English, and Scottish were negotiated through the lubricating medium of familiar and unfamiliar beverages and consumption behaviours. Recognition of the hybrid nature of the drinking activities that later influenced practices and attitudes in the New World provides a platform not only for challenging cultural tropes of the drunken Scotch Irish and teetotal Ulster Scot, but for reassessing cultural entanglements in both lands more generally.


Audrey Horning is the Forrest D. Murden Professor of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary and Professor of Archaeology at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her research centers on comparative colonialism in the British Atlantic, and she is the author of Ireland in the Virginian Sea: Colonialism in the British Atlantic 1550-1650 (2013 Omohundro Institute and the University of North Carolina Press). She has directed archaeological excavations throughout Ireland and also in Virginia, including at Jamestown and in Shenandoah National Park. See Less

This year’s lecture series is brought to you by a generous grant from Virginia Humanities.

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