Wednesday, December 16, 2015

7 Questions With Ron Smith and Mary O. Boyle, Authors of Prohibition in Atlanta: Temperance, Tiger Kings & White Lightning

Although Ron Smith and Mary O. Boyle have both long held a dream of writing and publishing a book, the dream came to fruition because a commissioning editor for The History Press made contact. They’d been maintaining a blog about beer in the Atlanta area. The editor found some history articles on the blog and asked if Ron would consider writing a book on Atlanta beer to be part of their American Palate series. Ron recruited Mary to be co-author and they brewed up a book.

Ron’s background is in biology and environmental sciences, though he’s long nurtured a deep interest in history. Mary started in accounting and then segued to information technology. Both are detailed researchers and believe that snapshots of the moment do not cover the complexities of where people and places developed from. This is especially true in the South, where much of the history was literally burned away.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
RS: As a kid I always liked Revolutionary War history. However, working on my family genealogy in my 30s got me moderately hooked. Researching for the books set that hook.

MB: I’ll give Ron primary credit for stoking my interest in history. I tend to be a here-and-now or looking-to-the-future person, and Ron’s thoughtfulness about the past has strengthened my appreciation for it.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
RS: My family has interesting historic moments. One in particular is that my Great Grandfather served in the US Army during the Civil War. That’s pretty dramatic when his home county was overwhelmingly Confederate. Also, my father worked on the Apollo missions that put humans on the moon. So, it’s a bit of a “Forrest Gump” story (not the major players, but right next to their shoulders).

MB: My fraternal grandma--whom I spent a lot of time with as a child--would talk about traveling for days in a covered wagon as a little girl. She also recounted that my grandfather hung her by her dress on the coat hook of their door once when she was being ornery as a 16 year-old bride. It made me realize that to truly understand someone’s multi-dimensional view of the present, you must tap into their stories of the past. The same is true for places and organizations.

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
RS: Over the last 18+ years, I have worked next to cultural resources professionals (archeologists, anthropologists, architectural historians, etc.). I have learned a lot from their work, papers, and presentations.

MB: I tapped history in a different way…by being able to remember problems and solutions of the past to help solve tricky technical problems in my IT work. You can save a lot of time if you remember and honor lessons already learned!

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
RS: To me it’s understanding context. X affected Y, and became what we now know of as Z. This can be seen in the blending of people, their cultures, their food, their drink, to become something new…like New Orleans.

MB: In some ways, I think humans elevate themselves when they explore, document and preserve knowledge and artifacts of history. The richness of life is lost if we lose track of the events and developments that shaped who we are. Understanding the past can help dispel a lot of faulty assumptions, too, or at least make them less powerful.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
RS: The US “Roaring Twenties” and the Gilded Age that led up to the 1920s. In my opinion, modern America was developed in the 20s: modern advertising, social change for women, wide-scale credit, “off time” for the average worker, and casting off of Victorian mores.

MB: Hmmm. I’m not tied to a specific time, but I am intrigued by events where the role of women in society changed. I love learning about particular women or groups that defied the norms and shook things up. Oddly, then, I have to give a lot of credit to Frances Willard, who in leading the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union fought for equality and took a much higher public profile than was typical for women.

6. Tell us about your book Prohibition in Atlanta: Temperance, Tiger Kings and White Lightning.
The beginning of the book was really the prohibition chapter in Atlanta Beer. That was by far the hardest chapter to write, but we kept distilling the information to a workable chapter. The feedback from readers was very positive, yet we knew that we’d only been able to present the Reader’s Digest version. In Prohibition in Atlanta, we were able to give a more thorough visit to the very long history of prohibition in Atlanta—which goes back to General (Governor) Oglethorpe’s ban of “demon rum.”

The book is about the ups and downs in regard to perceptions of alcohol, but to frame those cycles we discuss the religious, gender, race, and political climates across decades (a couple of centuries, really). There are some unexpected connections, such as that the women active in the temperance movement were also highly influential in securing voting rights for women. From the standpoint of the alcohol industry, reviewing this evolution certainly helps explain the messy remnants of blue laws and local option that exist today across Georgia.

7. What history related projects are you working on currently?
RS: I keep researching beverage history as I can. I’m currently reading Wood, Whiskey and Wine: A History of Barrels by Henry H. Work. Fascinating--and it might be useful in future writing. Maybe something more light-hearted about the history of drinks is in the shaker.

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