Bottles behind a bar

Alcohol and drugs in Britain from the 18th century to the present day

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • Planned delivery: On campus (South Kensington)
  • Two-term module, worth 5 ECTS
  • Available to eligible students as part of I-Explore
  • Extra Credit, or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

This module explores the history of alcohol and drugs in Britain from the 18th to early 20th century. We will examine concerns about specific substances, from gin in the 18th century to marijuana in the early 20th, as well as concerns about specific sites of consumption such as opium dens, pubs, and coffeehouses.

Throughout the module we will see how contemporary discussions about alcohol and drugs have often been bound up with broader concerns about race, politics, national health, gender, and religion.

Please note: The information on this module description is indicative. The module may undergo minor modifications before the start of next academic year. 

Information blocks

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Discuss the history of alcohol and drugs over the last 300 years with reference to relevant primary and secondary sources
  • Independently organize, develop, and carry out historical research
  • Explain the key ways in which alcohol and drugs have been the subject of moral, economic, and legislative concern in modern Britain


  • The 18th-century 'gin craze'
  • Beer and brewing
  • Tobacco and smoking culture
  • Coffee and coffeehouse culture
  • The opium trade
  • The use of drugs and alcohol in medicine
  • The concept of addiction
  • Temperance movements
  • Drinking places
  • Drugs and countercultures

This module is taught through a weekly lecture/seminar. Short lecture segments throughout the session will provide you with a broad overview of the major historical developments and the respective positions of different historians on key events and developments. The seminar element will involve reviewing and discussing set texts, often analysing these alongside other sources introduced in class such as contemporary adverts, pamphlets, and extracts from novels. Seminars are an opportunity for you to ask questions, discuss ideas with other members of the group, and share your thoughts; in this way you will develop your interpersonal, presentational, and analytical skills in an academic environment. The seminars are also an excellent opportunity to clarify your ideas and arguments ahead of writing your essays.

Feedback and marks for essays will be returned through the module VLE within two weeks. Informal feedback will also be provided throughout the module, during in-class discussion and during the analysis of texts in class time. Feedback from the Term 1 essay will be designed to support your development for your Term 2 essay.

Coursework: 2000-word essay (50%)
Coursework: 2000-word essay (50%)

  • Requirements: You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes reading and preparation for classes, researching and writing coursework assignments and preparing for other assessments.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 6 module. For an explanation of levels, view the Imperial Horizons Level Descriptors page.‌‌