University of Montana History Professor Kyle Volk had an idea for his students to do an in-depth study of alcohol called the ‘Wet Missoula’ project, in which students would produce oral histories of people involved in the alcohol industry.

“I've created a course for students to take here at UM called “Intoxication Nation,  Alcohol in American History’ in which we survey the history of alcohol in American history from the 16th century up until the recent past,” said Professor Volk. “As part of that course this year I had students do an oral history project where they went out and interviewed folks in the alcohol scene in Missoula and asked questions about the impact of COVID-19 on alcohol culture, and the business of alcohol.”

Volk said there was a lot of interest in the course, and it went well.

“The project went really well,” he said. “The course is a semester-length course here at UM, and I taught it this past spring, and for the first 12 weeks of the course we studied the history of alcohol in the United States in lots of different ways.”

Volk said his students did exhaustive preparation for the oral history interviews.

“We did some prep sessions, and then students selected who they wanted to interview out there in Missoula,” he said. “Then they made contact with potential interview subjects, scheduled the interviews, put questions together that they wanted to ask and then did the interview, and recorded them. The recordings of these interviews are going to go in the Mansfield Library archive.”

Volk said his students interviewed a wide range of people involved in the alcohol culture.

“They interviewed several sales reps, such as folks who work for distributors,” he said. “For example, here in Montana students interviewed a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery specialists, people who work in the recovery and therapeutic side of alcoholism and addiction. They interviewed lots of different types of people.”

'Volk said oral history is the perfect way to capture the emotion surrounding what a business has gone through during a pandemic or what it was like to be a server or bartender during shutdowns and mask ordinances.'


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