Prohibition period the subject of Wellcome Trust study

29 August 2016

Beer drinkers at a Louisiana saloon bar

Beer drinkers at a Louisiana saloon bar

A first class Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) graduate has received prestigious funding to research the historical relationship between alcohol policy and big business.

The Wellcome Trust is funding 21-year-old Richard Scobie for an MSc studentship to research the prohibition period in the USA. Richard graduated from GCU with a first class BA (Hons) Social Sciences (History) degree in the summer and now returns to complete an MSc in Health History.

The Volstead Act, prohibiting the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol in the USA, was enacted in 1919 in a bid to shape the nation’s relationship with alcohol. Renowned for prompting the growth of ‘speakeasies’ and conjuring memories of gangster Al Capone – prohibition was repealed thirteen years later.

Richard will consider the role leading US businessmen played in influencing alcohol regulation, from prohibition backing figures such as John D Rockefeller Senior, considered the richest American of all time, to repeal supporter Pierre Du Pont, a former President of General Motors.

Richard, from Stirling, said: “For Rockefeller Senior, his religion and being brought up in a dry household shaped his views. Du Pont on the other hand, hailed from French ancestors and was accustomed to alcohol at dinner and had a drinks cabinet in his house.

“Having said this, it is impossible to ignore the financial motivations for their involvement and it is no coincidence donations from Rockefeller to the Prohibition movement were at their highest and most frequent in the states where his businesses resided. Lessons can be learned from this as business today is more connected with public health than ever before.”

Richard’s degree is a joint programme offered by GCU and the University of Strathclyde. Dr Janet Greenlees, Senior Lecturer in History at GCU, said: “Richard has already excelled in his studies at GCU and he can be very proud to have secured a Wellcome Trust Studentship as competition each year from across the UK is fierce. His research is of a fascinating period of American history and, as with all studies into the social history of health, enables us to inform our future.”