Attending the AHA

I returned yesterday from attending the American Historical Association annual meeting in New York City. The AHA is always very large and the panels are usually not that interesting. Most of the people attending are in some way involved in the job process; either interviewing or being interviewed. I am very glad I do not do that anymore. Smaller conferences like the ones the ADHS sponsors are much nicer and have more interesting panels. The few Berkshire Conferences I have attended have also been very nice.

The Hilton was the headquarters for the conference; it was very poorly run. Our room had no remote control for the TV, no hair dryer and no pen or pad. You could not get a bellman and the check-in was a nightmare. The drinks is the bar were ridiculously expensive; $11 for a Guinness and $4 for a seltzer. Of course it is New York but still.

The ADHS is an affiliate organization and always holds sessions concurrently, mostly due to W. Scott Haine. The first panel was on Friday afternoon and was on “Writers, the Creative Process, and the Influence of Drink and Drugs.” The papers were very interesting; the main question that came up for me was that of sociability and whether the sociability of a psychoactive substance affects how society looks at the substance. Alcohol has always been seen as a social activator while drugs such as opium or heroin are usually characterized as individualistic in their effects. Does society look at alcohol or coffee more favorably because of the perceived sociability of those drugs?

The other ADHS panel was one that I was on; “American Alcohol Studies Matures: The Class of 1979, Thirty Years of Reflection.” I am part of the “Class of 1979” because I helped found the Alcohol Temperance History Group (the former name of the ADHS). Dan Malleck, who is the editor of the ADHS journal, chaired the session. The other panelists either published books in 1979 or were influenced by books published in 1979.

We had a good discussion, both between the panelists and with the audience. There were many questions about transnational history and the study of alcohol and other drugs. David Courtwright, the incoming president of the ADHS, made the point that we too often do the single country or single drug kind of book. This is definitely true but there is also the problem of doability, especially for dissertations. If anyone is interested in my paper, email me and I can send you a copy.

Besides seeing Eric Foner, my dissertation sponsor and a good friend, the only other panel I attended was “Discrimination/Harassment on the Job”, sponsored by the Professional Division of the AHA and other groups. People spoke about the various, ongoing problems facing women, people of color, glbt, and disabled people seeking and retaining employment as historians.

Some of the stories were horrifying; several people remarked that Fortune 500 companies are ahead of academia in dealing with issues of family and work life balance as well as policing discriminatory hiring practices. Although I have not worked at a large corporation, I have worked in non-academic settings – hospitals. These institutions are just as capable of being discriminatory and harassing as your average history department. I think it is a bit of wistful thinking on the part of academics to believe that people working for corporations have it better.

Although I do not make my living as an academic, I do consider myself a professional historian and that is something I am proud of. I am also proud of being a nurse, an author, and a mother. The idea that one’s adult life goes along a linear path was never true for women and is increasing not true for men as well.

Your Liver on Drugs

normal liver

Cirrohotic Liver
Cirrhotic Liver

Tylenol has apparently started an advertising campaign to warn people about abuse of acetaminophen and liver damage. The television commercial, which I saw while I was running on the treadmill at the gym, explains how your liver processes almost everything you ingest. If you take too much acetaminophen you can harm your liver. You might take the right amount, but other drugs you take could also contain it. An example is taking a prescribed pain med such as vicodin and then an hour later taking two extra strength tylenol. The other problem is that many people think that if two pills are good three must be better.

This public service campaign and its focus on maintaining a healthy liver reminds me of a paper I wrote when I was taking a graduate course in public health nursing. In “American Indian and Alaska  Native: A Healthy People 2000 Proposal”, my partner and I envisioned a healthy liver curriculum that would teach young peoples about the dangers of abusing drugs and alcohol and the harm it can cause the liver. Of course Scientific Temperance Instruction, a major aspect of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union program,  involved showing a classroom of young students a shriveled up liver in a jar Recently A Good Beer Blog was questioning the validity of research showing that as little of a pint of beer can  damage your liver.

Alcohol related disease often goes unreported as a cause of death. From the public health perspective alcohol abuse is most often the problem with an ensuing focus on the psychosocial dynamic misuse of alcohol engenders.  Although society often characterizes alcoholism as a disease, both scholars and practitioners often slight the physical aspects of the disease. Further complicating matters research shows that some alcohol consumption is healthy, particularly for the cardiovascular system.  Heart disease is the number one killer of Indians and non-Indians alike.

Rick Warren

I worked very hard to help elect Barack Obama and I am very proud that I did. I can’t wait for him to actually become President; Inauguration Day can not come soon enough. This year was the first time in my life that the person I wanted to become president actually won. Because of this, I have decided to trust him and, at the very least, wait until he is in the Oval Office before I start finding fault. However, his choice of Reverend Rick Warren to lead the invocation at Inauguration is very troubling.

When I studied the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt in graduate school, most scholars agreed that he was a wonderful president but that he had shown a deaf ear to the problems of African-Americans. There were various political reasons for this, but in hindsight it is a mark against his administration.

I believe that in the future historians will judge Barack Obama to have been a great president, but he will have a black mark against his administration because of his cluelessness around gay rights. I am sure that there are political reasons for his choice of Rick Warren but he and his team underestimated or were unaware of the deep disapproval the choice would generate among gays and their supporters. It is a mistake, his first. We can only hope that he will learn form his mistakes and understand that the position of gays in American society is a civil right issue.

If you have any doubts about the meaning and importance of gay rights, go see Milk. The film is amazing and reaffirms the need for ongoing action and commitment to the struggle for equality for all Americans.

Health Taxes

Today’s New York Times has an article about financing the various health care proposals. Most of the plans would cost a lot of money and one option for covering costs is to “increase taxes on cigarettes and non-diet soft drinks.”

I have written about this before but it is obvious that when considering health care reform, legislators will tun to products that they feel increase the cost of health care to help pay. The question remains whether they will decide alcoholic beverages are unhealthy enough to generate increased taxes as well.


In the fall of 2007 when publication of Brewing Battles was imminent I knew I wanted to have a website. I settled on Networks Solutions to host my site, primarily because it seems like setup would be easy, I would not have to learn html, and I could have a blog on the site.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty and I now realize I was overly optimistic. I have had to learn some html; to maintain this WordPress blog I will have to learn css. In addition, Network Solution only half-heartedly supports the blog since within Image Café, its non-html web building software, you can’t actually have true external links.

In trying to acquire a deeper knowledge about websites and blogging, I have turned to books and online forums. I have had mixed results. Books such as the “dummies” series usually have general information but rarely address a specific concern or problem. The same is usually true for online forums. The WordPress documentation and support, so far, has been useless. Since I have had little success in finding answers ,I may have to write my own book. I always assume that I am not unique and other people probably have the same issues.

From my first posting on this WordPress blog to this one ,I have learned how to put spaces between paragraphs. You have to place a string of code after each paragraph. I find it very odd that in Microsoft Word you just hit enter, but for the blog I had to spend several hours figuring out how to get the space. Now every time I write more than one paragraph I will have to include the code. If someone could make blogging as easy as word processing they would make a lot of money and people would be eternally gratefully. At the very least I would be.

What’s Next

I have started thinking about my next project. Brewing Battles was my attempt to get into print some of the ideas, concepts, and research contained in my dissertation. Publishing the book has given me a good sense of closure yet I am not sure if I am done yet. My dissertation, “The Politics of Alcohol Production: The Liquor Industry and the Federal Government 1862 – 1900” dealt both with distilled spirits and beer. The parts of the dissertation that dealt with distilling remain unpublished; there is limited access to the material. I would like more people to read the ideas contained in those chapters but I do not feel that I necessarily want to write a companion book, Distilling Duels: The History of the Distilled Spirits Industry in America.

For the book, I chose to focus on beer because the story of brewing and brewers in America seemed both more cohesive and more integral to American history. The history of distilled spirits in America is a more predictable one, with concentration and consolidation occurring earlier and more completely. A notable exception was bourbon which claimed a more distinctive heritage and marketing.

Recently the same impulse that prompted home brewers, craft brewers, and regional brewers to reinvent American brewing on a small, local, artisanal basis has spread to distilled spirits. Anchor Steam now has a distillery, V1 Vodka produces small batch vodka in Western Massachusetts, and there are artisanal producers of rum and other alcoholic beverages.

To order my dissertation you can go to Dissertation Express . Type in my name, Amy Mittelman and or the title of the dissertation, “The Politics of Alcohol Production: TheLiquor Industry and the Federal Government, 1862 – 1900.”

You can also try to get a copy of the dissertation through inter library loan.


Welcome! If you are visiting this blog for the first time, I am very glad to have you here. I have had a blog since February but it was more low tech, more journal than blog. The title of my book is Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer and the publishing and publicizing of the book has engendered some battles as well. For now suffice it to say that it was not easy to switch from the manual “musings” page on my website to this legitimate wordpress blog.

If you are a repeat visitor, welcome as well. If you were redirected from please bookmark this site – I will continue to use this blog to talk about Brewing Battles, beer, the brewing industry, alcohol and temperance and some life issues including politics as well. Now it will be very easy for people to comment so I hope you all will.

If you want to visit the main site, you can click here or on the side of the blog under About. Cheers!

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