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January 2016 Vol. 53 No. 5

University of Illinois Press

The following review appeared in the January 2016 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email

Social & Behavioral Sciences
History, Geography & Area Studies - North America

2014-46096 CIP
Meyer, Sabine N. We are what we drink: the temperance battle in Minnesota. Illinois, 2015. 269p bibl index afp ISBN 9780252039355, $55.00.

German scholar Meyer (American studies, Univ. of Osnabrück, Germany) makes a major contribution to temperance and ethnic history through her case study of the Minnesota capital of St. Paul from the 1820s to 1919.  Unlike its neighbor, Minneapolis, St. Paul was an anti-temperance stronghold where temperance reformers struggled as an embattled minority.  Meyer combines theoretical awareness with massive archival research.  Her chief interest is identity.  She is critical of earlier temperance histories that describe a moral crusade by Protestant, middle-class, Anglo-Americans and privilege class and religion at the expense of ethnicity, gender, and place.  Her local study offers a corrective.  “Viewing temperance as an (inter)ethnic issue, this book sets out to analyze the connections between the temperance movement and the construction of the ethnic identities among Minnesota’s Irish and German Americans.”  German Americans created an identity in which beer was central.  In contrast, an important minority of Irish Americans, some of them laborers, saw “temperance as a path to spiritual and material self-improvement.”  By the turn of the century, Irish Americans had become accepted into Anglo-American Protestant society, and Irish interest in teetotalism declined, especially among men.

--D. M. Fahey, Miami University

Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.