Food & Drink

College Offers Dream Class: Booze and Culture

All that time we spent drinking and partying in college, we knew we were really just “studying” alcohol culture, but our professors (and parents) never understood that. But one teacher at Penn State gets it, and he’s working to turn drinking into a higher academic pursuit. Dr. Kirk French has pioneered a new course titled Anthropology of Alcohol, or “Booze and Culture” as he affectionately calls it, giving students a whirlwind tour of drinking cultures around the world. The initial spring semester, which is now nearing successful completion, even included a spring break trip to Scotland to tour whisky distilleries.

According to French, the class introduces students to basic tenets of anthropological study through the familiar lens of alcohol—riiiiight. During standard class sessions, the Daily Collegian reports, the group covers worldly lessons on extremely heavy drinking in Uganda, Mongolian fermented horse milk or Russian vodka. But as any good anthropologist knows, the real action happens in the field. French has made school trips, like the Scottish excursion, an integral part of each session, and plans to regularly whisk students away to observe foreign drinking practices firsthand. While the professor is considering Greece and New Orleans for next year’s trip, the upcoming fall semester will see participants studying closer to home, as French intends to require students tailgate to gather information about drinking in Penn State’s intense football culture.

It’s no surprise that the student body is on board with this new kind of coursework. But the twist is that French has got the go ahead from Penn State to expand the course from 100 anthropology students to 250 students from the entire college. At this rate, soon every student at Penn State will be drinking every night before class—this time, though, it will count towards their GPA.