Park City Museum taps J.J. Feinauer for Prohibition presentation
Historian will give talk on May 4
Historian and journalist J.J. Feinauer knows most everyone who lives in Utah has an opinion about the state’s liquor laws, and he hopes people will ask a lot of questions when they attend his upcoming lecture on Prohibition at the Park City Museum.
“The research I’ve done has been specifically tied to Prohibition in Utah and I will look at the unique elements of how Prohibition played out here,” Feinauer told The Park Record. “It will be a PowerPoint presentation and as interactive as the audience wants.
“I hope people will have some questions and want me to go deeper into a topic.”
The free lecture will be at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 4.
“I think people who come to the lecture will learn a lot and be surprised, especially given the assumptions about the religious culture in the region,” Feinauer said.
Feinauer, a graduate student at the University of Utah, got interested in Prohibition while studying for his bachelor’s degree in American History.
“While I was working on the degree, I spent a lot of time in that time period that we commonly call the Gilded Age/Progressive Era,” he said. “It was what my capstone research project was on. I wrote about the time period in my research paper that I presented at the regional Phi Alpha Theta conference.”
While his paper that won first place at the conference wasn’t specifically about Prohibition, the Prohibition era was a huge part of the time period Feinauer researched.
“I kept running into [the topic] and became increasingly fascinated by it,” he said. “Initially, I had the idea that Prohibition came out of the blue from these wacky religious fundamentalists who wanted to impose their beliefs on other people. But what I encountered through research and writing about that time period was surprising to me.”
Feinauer read about the specific encounters in which alcohol was a social problem.
Growing up as a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Feinauer said he felt and saw the benefits of not drinking alcohol. But that only fed his desire to learn more.
“I became curious as to why Prohibition wouldn’t work, especially in these communities that were experiencing problems due to alcohol,” he said. “I kept wondering why did the passing a law making it illegal to produce and sell alcohol not work? That was the impetus for my research.”
During his research, Feinauer learned the distinction between the Temperance Movement and the Prohibition Movement.
“The Temperance Movement is a 19th-Century movement that is focused on improving individuals’ spiritual lives and by resolving local problems by encouraging people to not drink,” he said. “The Prohibition movement is more of a 20th-Century animal, and is specifically tied to legislative reforms and making it impossible for saloons to operate in communities. So, the saloon itself became the target of these laws that weren’t simply trying to reform the individual.”
Another important distinction between the Temperance Movement and Prohibition is that Prohibition outlawed the making, transporting and serving alcohol, but not drinking it.
“The Temperance movement specifically focused on helping the individual not consume alcohol,” Feinauer said. “So what’s interesting to me is the idea of trying to reform a system as opposed to trying to reform an individual’s personal behavior.”
Feinauer said the same sentiment resonates in modern American life and culture.
“It’s also how certain activists continue to approach reform today,” he said. “Prohibition blazed the trail for that type of activism.”
Historian and journalist J.J. Feinauer will present a free lecture about Prohibition at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 4, at the Park City Museum, 528 Main St. The lecture is presented in conjunction with the museum’s exhibit “Spirited: Prohibition in America.” For information, visit http://www.parkcityhistory.org.
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