Alcohol in the Archives: Temperance collections in Archives and Special Collections

 Book your place at the first Alcohol in the Archives event in the UofG programme for the Being Human Festival, 21 November 2020.

Have you ever considered exploring debates about alcohol through creative writing? Are you interested in learning about the twentieth-century history of Temperance and its opponents in Scotland? 

Alcohol features prominently in many Scottish novels and poems, from the works of Robert Burns and Hugh MacDiarmid, to Alasdair Gray and A.L. Kennedy. Ongoing debates about the role of alcohol in Scottish society and individual lives make this topic one of continued interest for creative writers.  This project will examine the temperance collections in Archives and Special Collections, especially press cuttings from 1925-1935 collected by the Scottish Temperance Alliance. 

These historical records feed into ongoing contemporary debates about the role of alcohol in Scottish society. On one hand, stereotypes and creative media imagine Scots as heavy drinkers, in representations created both within Scotland (the poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’ by Robert Burns) and beyond (the drunken Groundskeeper Willie in The Simpsons). On the other hand, movements like Dry January prompt people to rethink their relationship with alcohol. Alcohol licensing is a devolved matter and the Scottish Government has recently introduced policies such as minimum unit pricing that do not exist in England. Glasgow was home to much of the Scottish temperance movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (such as the Scottish Temperance League, founded in the city in 1844), making it an ideal place to reflect on alcohol in Scotland.  

I will lead a creative writing workshop using material found in the archives as writing and thinking prompts. The exact topic of the workshop will be decided in response to initial research. Possible topics, on which the collections are strong, might be ‘alcohol and identity’ (from women’s role in the temperance movement to class- and nationality-based conceptions of drinking) and ‘alcohol and space’ (from changing models of the pub, to alcohol in the home, to church-based temperance events). 

How you can take part
(whether you attended the workshop or not)

You are invited to submit writing inspired by the workshop objects to a one-time, online journal showcasing the responses to this project. Links to all the objects are on this page. I welcome submissions of poetry (up to 40 lines) and prose (fiction and creative non-fiction, up to 1500 words). The deadline is Saturday 5th December 2020. Submissions should be sent to with a 1-2 sentence bio and a note of which artefact inspired the piece.   

The completed journal will be made freely available online, hosted on a blog about the project. The publication will also provide an overview of Scottish temperance movements, the material in the archives and other relevant information. 

Sarah Spence, PhD researcher in English literature / medical humanities 
Sarah’s research examines stigmatised health issues in contemporary Scottish literature (1997-present), in the context of neoliberalism and the so-called ‘Glasgow Effect’ (the phenomenon of poor health and high mortality in Scotland, even after accounting for socioeconomic factors). It focuses on mental ill-health/madness, alcohol use/alcoholism, and obesity/fatness, as these are commonly (and negatively) associated with Scottish public health, and indeed Scottishness itself, in the press and popular culture. The research also considers newspaper articles published in Scotland, allowing for a richer understanding of the fiction’s relationship with its context.  
Twitter: @_sspence 


GLAHA:50811, "Drinking Scene", MacKenzie, Donald, 1975