Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2024

Course Description

You’ve enrolled in a class about ethanol...alcohol, booze, the sauce. How do you feel about that? For some, alcohol serves as a social lubricant that facilitates interactions and relationships. For others, alcohol, or a specific type of alcohol, may trigger horrible (fuzzy) memories or even visceral reactions. And others avoid consuming alcohol all together for a variety of reasons. Exactly when the first fermented beverage was consumed is not known, as it was most likely the product of the unintended fermentation of juice or pulp stemming from wild yeast strains in the air. However, some of the oldest archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest intentional production of alcohol occurred roughly 9,000 years ago in Jiahu, a Neolithic village in the Yellow River Valley, China. While this may be the oldest (to date), it is certainly not the only evidence for the production and consumption of fermented beverages in the world. Societies across the globe have produced and/or consumed fermented beverages from locally available sources of sugar and/or traded for fermented beverages over great distances, incorporating these substances into various aspects of culture and societal life over the millennia. Despite its near cultural universality, alcohol is a cultural artifact; its forms, meanings, uses, and prohibitions are culturally defined, and even when it is tabooed, it is not being ignored. This is not a training class to be a sommelier or a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). We will not be skipping class to throw back a few pints at Taphouse. Instead, this course explores human relationships with alcohol in sociocultural and biocultural contexts around the world and through time using a four-field anthropological and interdisciplinary approach. We will begin with the process of fermentation and production of alcohol, in part by experimenting with how that first batch of alcohol may have been unintentionally discovered. We will then move on to identifying what alcohol is, its short and long-term physical and psychological effects, and the effects and after-effects of over consumption. Over the remainder of the semester, we will travel the globe and through time to explore the significant socio-cultural impacts that alcohol has made in specific societies, and how those societies have developed specific cultural practices and beliefs to reaffirm and enact their engagement with alcohol. Our exploration will be guided by six general questions: 1.When do people drink? 2.Where do people drink? 3.Who drinks and who does not? 4.How do people drink? 5.What do people drink? 6.Why do people drink?

Student Outcomes

In this Anthropology of Alcohol course, students will be able to:

  • Engage with cultural differences by developing an awareness of how people with different cultural backgrounds make meaning of/through alcohol differently, all while contemplating and comparing/contrasting their own personal values and traditions.
  • Identify and analyze structures and institutions that create and sustain inequality and marginalization via alcohol.
  • Explain various processes for making alcohol by engaging in participant observation during class activities and field trip opportunities.
  • Apply anthropological methods and perspectives to analyze and interpret data in the completion of a cultural analysis of alcohol within a specific society.