How Alcohol Built the British Empire

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the British Empire expanded across the globe an almost ubiquitous but often underappreciated commodity went with it; alcohol. The distillation, sale and drinking of booze played an essential role in trade, seafaring and colonial societies. But for many indigenous communities this came at a terrible price as, previously unfamiliar, distilled spirits wreaked havoc on their communities and reinforced the racial ideologies that legitimised imperialism. It is a more complicated story than this though and for some indigenous communities, alcohol was not ruinous instead becoming a vital source of income that enabled them to survive and in some instances flourish. For this episode, Dan is joined by Dr Deborah Toner, Associate Professor of History at the University of Leicester and author of Alcohol in the Age of Industry, Empire, and War, to uncover the central role that alcohol played in creating the British Empire.


 

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