National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Michael Dietler

Affiliation: University of Chicago

Michael Dietler is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, where he has been teaching since 1995. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and his BA from Stanford University, and he taught at Yale University before moving to Chicago. He conducts archaeological research in Europe, and ethnographic and historical research in Africa, Europe, and the US, frequently in collaboration with his wife, Ingrid Herbich.  Professor Dietler has been a research fellow at the Paris Institute for Advanced Studies (France), the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and the School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe). He has also been a visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and the University of Paris I (Sorbonne-Panthéon), and a research associate of the CNRS Unit 154 at Montpellier-Lattes (France).  His volume on Archaeologies of Colonialism: Consumption, Entanglement, and Violence in Ancient Mediterranean France was the 2012 recipient of the AIA James R. Wiseman Book Award.  Professor Dietler is an AIA Norton Lecturer for 2021/2022.


Attitudes about alcohol exhibit a striking degree of ambivalence. On one hand, drinking alcohol is a broadly accepted and very popular activity around the world. Indeed, alcohol is by far the most widely and abundantly consumed psychoactive agent. Current estimates place the number of active consumers at over 2.4 billion people worldwide (or roughly a third of the earth’s population). Yet, alcohol has also sometimes acquired a bad reputation as a dangerous substance and caused several mass panics. Some governments and religions have even tried to ban it altogether. Archaeological evidence shows that the human relationship with alcohol is by no means recent: the practice of drinking has a very deep antiquity on multiple continents and the biological adaptation that enables humans and a few close primates to metabolize alcohol goes back at least 10 to 12 million years. This lecture presents an anthropological framework for understanding the social and cultural significance of alcohol and examines the archaeological evidence for drinking in the past, with particular attention to the nature and consequences of the wine trade in the ancient Mediterranean.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Dietler, Michael. (2020). Alcohol as embodied material culture: anthropological reflections on the deep entanglement of humans and alcohol. In Alcohol and Humans: A Long and Social Affair, edited by Robin Dunbar and Kimberley Hockings, pp. 299-319. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dietler, Michael.  (2006). Alcohol: anthropological/archaeological perspectives.  Annual Review of Anthropology 35: 229-249.

Dietler, Michael. (2001). Theorizing the feast: rituals of consumption, commensal politics, and power in African contexts.  In Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, edited by Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden, pp. 65-114. Washington, DC: Smithsonian.

Dietler, Michael. (1994).  Quenching Celtic thirst.  Archaeology 47(3): 44-48.

Dietler, Michael. (1990). Driven by drink:  the role of drinking in the political economy and the case of Early Iron Age France.   Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 9: 352-406.

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