The Points Interview: Peter Maguire

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points welcomes historian Peter Maguire, author of Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers, and the Untold History of the Marijuana Trade (Columbia University Press, 2013), co-written with Mike Ritter and featuring a foreward by David Farber.

screenshot_1062Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

I would say that it’s the first serious and scholarly history of the marijuana trade. I’m an historian: I’ve written scholarly books on the Nuremberg Trials and the Khmer Rouge and very serious subjects. But I grew up around the marijuana trade and around smugglers. So I applied the same scholarly methods to a different subject that, up to this point, has been treated very lightly.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

I think that they would find the relationship between smugglers and the DEA much less adversarial than they imagined. Instead of the usual narrative of cops-and-robbers, the tale is one of mutual self-respect. The DEA respects the smugglers and their organizational skills, particularly later on when they are moving 20 tons of marijuana across the Pacific. That’s no stoned, disorganized, hippie operation anymore. For the smugglers, their view of the DEA is that the agents were just doing their job. One DEA agent in particular, James Conklin, who is one of the stars of the book, really seems to be respected by all.

And I think in light of changes in American drug law and policy, this book is particularly salient. It’s one thing to legalize marijuana, but what about the people who were impacted by drug convictions for minimal amounts of marijuana? I’m almost to the point now where I feel like there needs to be some kind of reparations for the War on Drugs, particularly marijuana.

Read More »

Advertisements

“This Is Your Brain on Drugs”: Teaching Drug History

About midway through the semester last fall my department asked me if I wanted to teach my own course in the spring. My dissertation was basically complete and, since I wasn’t going on the academic job market this year, I felt that I had the time to dedicate to what I knew would be a fairly demanding task.

Prepare to Learn(Be prepared. Be very prepared.)

I also knew what I wanted to teach. After writing a 450-page dissertation on the shifting nature of marijuana laws in the 1970s and ‘80s and the role that social activism played in catalyzing these changes, I knew that I wanted to teach a course about the history of drug use and anti-drug activism in the United States – the good, the bad, and the ugly of all of it.

There’s not a lot of guidance out there on how to teach this material. There are endless websites, articles and programs on teaching children and young adults how to avoid drug use, detailing the dangers and pitfalls of addiction, but there are very few unbiased, historical resources that talk about the nature of American drug laws or the influence of drug use and anti-drug activism on our culture. For the most part, discussions of drug use and the ongoing drug war are relegated to criminal justice programs or are taught by the few dedicated drug historians who have made this subject an integral part of their careers. This meant I was pretty much going it alone, piecing together a syllabus with what I hoped would be sufficient depth and scope from the materials I had come across in my own research, or those I had noticed and appreciated in the past.

The novelty of starting afresh was thrilling. Basically, I had no rules, no “pedagogical methodology” of which to speak. I wanted only to present the most informative, widest-ranging survey of American drug history possible, with cultural resources like films, music, and even museum exhibits added to the mix. Being located in Washington, D.C., was particularly helpful since I could send my students to the DEA museum for their final paper’s critique, and since I was teaching in the American Studies department, they naturally expected the course to be interdisciplinary. We would read chapters from Martin Torgoff’s Can’t Find My Way Home, articles on marijuana legalization from the New Yorker, and watch films like Dazed and Confused or Winter’s Bone, often all in the same week. My students had a great time. So did I.

But what was particularly telling was how recent, and therefore how insufficiently understood, much of our modern history about drug use is. The early years are fairly simple: opiate abuse in the nineteenth century, the effects of Progressivism on pharmaceutical sales, the Anslinger era and hippies and Nixon. The story followed a common theme: Americans would use a drug, often in vast numbers. This drug use would then become problematic. Increased anti-drug enforcement would result. QED.

We took David Musto’s theory as our guide. Musto, the Yale historian who died in 2010, had argued as early as 1973 that American drug use occurred in cycles, and that the pendulum of public thought was constantly swinging between the poles of widespread acceptance and vilification. And history, for many decades, held this as true: marijuana, for example, was so popular it was decriminalized in a dozen states between 1973 and 1978, before skyrocketing rates of adolescent use turned public approval around and the drug was the demonized staple of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program.

david musto(The man, the myth, the legend: David Musto, 1936-2010)

But this model no longer holds so fast. After I taught them about the parent movement and the Reagan administration’s punitive turn in the war on drugs, we entered into terra incognita, the unknown land of the recent past. Sure, we talked about Woodstock ’94, “I didn’t inhale,” and medical marijuana. We discussed Prozac and the long history of mood-altering drugs. And, naturally, we talked about ADHD medications and meth. But once you get into the late ‘90s and 2000s, the natural line of drug history that developed so smoothly in decades past is interrupted, often jarringly, but how strange our nation’s relationship with drugs is today. With medical marijuana approved in 21 states and D.C., with two states legalizing its sale, and with doctors testing the use of psychedelics like mushrooms and LSD for those suffering from PTSD, the pendulum between approval and condemnation is no longer so clear. We’re in limbo these days, and that’s hard to teach.

Additionally, we had to talk about the racial ramifications of the drug war, a topic that has recently become disturbing clear. We read two chapters from Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and my students were both intrigued by and unsurprised by Alexander’s claims. That the drug war is racist, that it targets non-white men, and that it can be seen as the most recent iteration in a long line of racial oppression were not new ideas for my students, nor were they in any way controversial. Instead, they were taken as a simple truth, and one that pushed many of my students to argue – rather eloquently, I thought – that simply legalizing marijuana or decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs will not stop the racial targeting of non-white men. No longer incarcerating people for mild drug offenses would be a good start, but it would treat a symptom of larger forms of structural inequality, not the disease itself.

In our last week together, I asked my students what I forgot. What drugs didn’t I talk about enough, if I talked about them at all? How could I improve the course if I were to teach it again? Their answers were great. They wanted to know more about the history of drug abuse on college campuses, in order to understand why so many of their fellow students were abusing speed, cocaine, ADHD medications, molly and alcohol. Celebrity drug culture could fill at least a lecture or two. And what about the abuse of “alternative drugs” – Krokodil, bath salts, poppers, Robotripping, sizzurp, drinking Purell, and beezing? They also wanted to watch episodes of Cops and Intervention.

Teaching drug history was one of the most satisfying and entertaining things I’ve done in grad school, and it seemed like my students enjoyed it as well. Any thoughts on your own experience in teaching drug history, or things you think I should include for the next time? You can see my syllabus on my website.

DUIA Class(Teach Your Children Well: Drug Use in America After 1945 at George Washington University, Spring 2014)

 

 

Revising Drug History on the Web (or, what’s up with Vincent Dole’s Wikipedia page?)

When I taught high school a little less than a decade ago, we teachers generally regarded Wikipedia as a kind of academic quackery. The site supposedly lured our stressed, overscheduled prep students by allowing them to tap an up-to-date—but intellectually suspect— knowledge base with just a few keystrokes. Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched the open-source encyclopedia project in 2001, and its rapidly evolving entries vexed research teachers. We were still teaching the Robert Caro Writing Process, notecards and all.

screenshot_1056
Caro with his master outline for “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” (Martine Fougeron/Getty for The New York Times)

 

But Wikipedia, as it turned out, developed its own orthodoxy; its accuracy now rivals traditional online encyclopedias like Britannica. Even so, the site has faced objections regarding its hostility to academic specialists and primary sources, and the apparent bias arising from its masculine editorial culture. Yet the critical response from academia has softened from one of rejection—a tough stance to maintain when a site gets some 500 million visitors a month—to reform. Feminist edit-a-thons, class projects to improve wiki entries, and Harvard’s recent job advertisement for a Wikipedian-in-residence all indicate that scholars have decided to take responsibility for shaping content on the widely read site.

We could take the same initiative with drug and alcohol history resources. And we try: Points compiles a list of approved online resources, and a good amount of our daily traffic is driven by historically motivated Google queries.

Read More »

The Points Interview: George Vaillant

Editor’s Note: George Vaillant’s recent book, Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study (Harvard University Press, 2012), reflects on the famous longitudinal study begun in 1938. Here, he explains why some findings may be of interest to alcohol and drug historians.

  screenshot_1045 1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

It’s a poor man’s Passages [by Gail Sheehy]—only it’s from real life.

2. What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

The value of the Grant study to the history of alcoholism is the number of urban myths that it exposes, and for this reason it received the biennial Jellinek prize for the best research in alcoholism in the world.Read More »

Points is back!

After a brief hiatus, Points is rolling out a new look. We have new managing editors and have added fresh voices to our roster of contributing editors (for more on that, check out our bios below). But our mission remains the same:

 Points is an academic group blog that brings together scholars with wide-ranging expertise with the goal of producing original and thoughtful reflections on the history of alcohol and drugs, the web of policy surrounding them, and their place in popular culture.  A group blog provides a space for the exchange of new ideas, insights, and speculations about our interdisciplinary and rapidly evolving field.  With a diverse audience in mind, postings to Points will feature short takes (500-1000 words) by contributing editors and guest bloggers on a wide range of topics—ruminations on a new archive, scathing cultural criticism, commentary on current events, etc.  More informed than the mainstream media and less turgid than the average academic journal, Points will exemplify a new kind of scholarly exchange.

Be on the lookout for new content beginning next week. If you’re interested in contributing, send a note to managing editors Claire Clark and Emily Dufton. Points can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Managing Editors:

Claire Clark is a dual-trained historian and behavioral scientist (Ph.D./MPH, Emory University, 2014) and a postdoctoral fellow in medical humanities and ethics. Her work has appeared in history and social science journals, and has been supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Hastings Center. Her current book project, provisionally titled The Recovery Revolution, explores how ex-addict activists shaped the addiction treatment industry since the 1960s.

Emily Dufton received her Ph.D. in American Studies from George Washington University in May 2014. Her dissertation, “Just Say Know: How the Parent Movement Shaped America’s Modern War on Drugs, 1970-2000,” traced the history of the parent movement, the most successful grassroots anti-drug movement of the late twentieth century. Dufton’s writing has appeared on The Atlantic, History News Network, and in several academic journals, and she has appeared on NPR’s “BackStory with the American History Guys” and the YouTube program Instant Response Team, discussing her work and the current marijuana legalization process in the United States.

Contributing Editors:

Michael Durfee: A Ph.D. candidate in the history department at SUNY Buffalo, Michael Durfee works under the advisement of Points Contributor Dr. David Herzberg.  His prior education includes an M.A. in history from SUNY Buffalo and an M.A. in education from Lewis and Clark College. He is currently at work researching his dissertation which analyzes the dynamics of Crack Era reform from 1986 to 1992, loosely constructed. In 2012, Michael joined the faculty of Niagara University’s History Department where he presently teaches courses on postwar urban history, the modern War on Drugs, and the rise of Mass Incarceration.

Alexine Fleck: Alexine Fleck teaches English and Women’s Studies at the Community College of Philadelphia. She completed her Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania, where she wrote about the ways drug users and addicts enter into and challenge “expert” discourse on addiction. While completing her degree, she worked as an ethnographer tasked with mapping HIV transmission through drug use and sex work for an HIV-prevention research division at the university. Her work attempts to use the tools of literary analysis to understand and legitimize the lived experiences of drug use and addiction. When she is not teaching or writing, she spends time with her newly adopted horse, Annie.

Nicholas Johnson: Nick Johnson is a graduate student in Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. His research interests include Weimar Culture, the First World War, Intellectual History, Urban History, Film, and Modern Literature. He is a huge fan of the Sazerac and everything that Belgian and German brewing traditions have to offer. Find him on Twitter @Tchoupitoulas89

Amy Long (Media Liaison): Amy Long is an MFA candidate in fiction at Virginia Tech. She previously worked for Media Coalition and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression in New York City; the ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project in Santa Cruz, CA; and Common Sense for Drug Policy in Washington, D.C.  Amy holds a BA in English and Women’s Studies and an MA in Women’s Studies from the University of Florida; her research there focused on the relationships among drug dealing, gender, and capitalism in early, modern, and contemporary narratives.

Michelle McClellan: Michelle McClellan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and the Residential College at the University of Michigan.  She received her Ph.D. in American history from Stanford University, and she is very interested in interdisciplinary approaches to studying and teaching about addiction.  Her research has focused largely on alcoholism and women, and she is completing a book that uses the figure of the alcoholic woman as a way to explore the complex intersection of gender and medicalization in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America.   McClellan is also fascinated by issues of secrecy, disclosure, and public memory in the history of addiction, and she is beginning a collective biography of women who revealed their alcoholism during the last third of the twentieth century.

Saeyoung Park:  An Assistant Professor of East Asian History at Davidson College in North Carolina, Park is a historian who works primarily on China and Korea, She received her Ph.D (2011) from the Johns Hopkins University and was the Korea Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania (2011). Her book manuscript on war and memory is titled Politics of the Past: The Imjin War in Korea. Currently, she is working on psychoactive substances, addiction, and the aesthetics of consumption in Korea and China (1600-present).

Adam Rathge is a Ph.D. candidate in the history department at Boston College, working under the advisement of Dr. Martin Summers. His dissertation in-progress examines a century-long road to federal marijuana prohibition in the United States by analyzing the development and transformation of medical discourse, regulatory processes, and social concerns surrounding cannabis between 1840 and 1940. Adam’s research offers a fresh approach to the historiography on marijuana by tracing how and why cities and states across the country regulated cannabis before the federal government and the effect these varied regulations had on each other, on the emergence of marijuana hysteria, and on the impetus for federal regulation. He previously received a B.S. from the University of Dayton and a M.A. from the University of Cincinnati. Find him on Twitter @ARRathge.

Ron Roizen: Ron Roizen writes about the history and sociology of alcohol science; he lives in Wallace, Idaho.

Eoin Cannon (Managing Editor Emeritus): Now speechwriter for Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Eoin Cannon spent several years as Lecturer and Assistant Director of Studies in the History & Literature program at Harvard University. His book, The Saloon and the Mission: Addiction, Conversion, and the Politics of Redemption in American Culture (UMass Press, 2013), examines sobriety movements between the Civil War and World War II, and the roles their narratives played in advancing various social and political ideas. A former newspaper reporter based in Dorchester, Mass., he also writes on cities, sports, religion, and literature.

Joe Spillane (Managing Editor Emeritus): Joe Spillane is Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida, where he is also an affiliate of the Department of Sociology, Criminology & Law. He has published Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States (Johns Hopkins Press, 2000) and co-edited Federal Drug Control: The Evolution of Policy and Practice (Haworth Press, 2004).  His current drug-related research agenda includes: the history and development of drug abuse liability assessment; addiction, trauma, and Vietnam veterans; and reflections on the nature of drug epidemics.

Trysh Travis (Managing Editor Emeritus): A 20th-century literary and cultural historian, Trysh Travis teaches in the Center for Women’s Studies & Gender Research at the University of Florida.  She has published on the gender and power of addiction and recovery, spirituality, and bibliotherapy in a variety of scholarly and popular venues.  Her book The Language of the Heart: a Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey appeared in 2009.  With Timothy Aubry, she is the co-editor of the anthology “Re-Thinking Therapeutic Culture” (U. Chicago Press, forthcoming).