Detail from ‘Young Drinker’ by Gerrit van Honthorst. Wikimedia Commons.

Research Questions

  • One of the defining features of early modernity was the development of print technology, vernacular languages, and literary culture. These processes played a profound role in shaping social habits and attitudes, either through the direct engagement of readers, or indirectly, through the subsequent dissemination of knowledge by other means.

  • The project provides the opportunity to explore systematically the characterisation and language of intoxicants within influential discursive traditions such as medicine, civic humanism, common law, and reformatory religion.

  • It also allows the itemization and analysis of the literary and pictorial genres in which and by which intoxicants were represented and aestheticized: for example, in ballads, plays, miscellanies, jest books, books of proverbs, almanacs, and sermons.

  • A third aim will be to gauge the impact of print on drinking practices as detailed in other strands.


This strand will identify vernacular texts and images involving intoxicants and intoxication which are catalogued and keyword searchable on digital websites and add them to the database in the form of annotated bibliographical records. This will allow researchers to trace printed discussion and representation of intoxicants across genres. It will also be possible to contextualise moments of moral concern about drunkenness – as articulated through sermon and other polemics – with peaks in the trade of intoxicants or reported incidents of intoxication. Genres to be viewed include: performative literature like miscellanies, ballads, plays, and jest books; handbook literature like conduct books, recipe books, and medical regimes; didactic literature like sermons and moralistic pamphlets (published by the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, for example); prescriptive literature like travel writing and social satires; discursive literature like news-books and newspapers; ‘novels’, autobiographies and memoirs; and legal and medical treatises.