The Points Interview: Jane T. Merritt

Dr. Jane T. Merritt is an associate professor of history at Old Dominion University and author of the new book, The Trouble with Tea: The Politics of Consumption in the Eighteenth-Century Global Economy (Johns Hopkins, 2016).

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Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Trouble with Tea explores 18th century consumer culture, market economies, and their political use and meaning.  The core of the book’s argument questions the old adage among economic historians that consumer demand drove merchants to provide an ever-increasing supply of goods, thus sparking a Consumer Revolution in the early eighteenth century.  Tea presents a different picture.  Instead, political concerns about the domination of Britain in a global economy and the corporate machinations of the English East India Company (EIC) in the 1720s and 1730s produced an over-supply of Chinese tea that the Company then funneled to North America, hoping to find a market.  American consumers only slowly habituated themselves to the beverage, aided by the availability of Caribbean sugar.  Still, American merchants and consumers took to tea by mid-century, even as colonial activists called for a boycott of British goods.  Boston wasn’t the only place that held a “Tea Party” to protest imperial tax policy in late 1773.  Citizens of Philadelphia, New York, Edenton, North Carolina, and Charleston also destroyed or forcibly returned the EIC tea commissioned for sale in North America.  In truth, however, Americans did not reject luxury consumption or tea; they simply wanted quicker, easier access to foreign commercial markets, which they returned to soon after the American Revolution.  Ironically, individual states and the new federal government established under the 1787 constitution revived taxes and tariffs on tea as a key source of revenue.  Creating, then fulfilling consumer desires, has always been a driving force in the American economy.Read More »

#ADHS2017: Utrecht, The Netherlands

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The Alcohol and Drugs History Society convenes this weekend at Utrecht University in the Netherlands for its biennial meeting.  The conference theme is “Drinking and Drug Policies in History: Contextualizing Causes and Consequences.” There, participants are presenting new research and charting the future of the field. In an opening keynote address delivered Friday evening, “The Consumption of Intoxicants in the Past – Old Problems, New Approaches,” Phil Withington suggested innovative methodologies to make sense of how and why people – and, importantly, which people – used intoxicants in the past. (Also be sure to check out Dr. Withington’s Intoxicant Project for more information on drug use in early modern Europe.)Read More »

India’s Trysts with Prohibition

by Kawal Deep Kour (PhD, Indian Institute of Technology)

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Gandhi

As part of M.K. Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation with Indian colonial authority in 1921, abhorrence of drink and drugs were included on the agenda of the constructive programme of the movement. His promotion of temperance and adherence to the principle of non-violence were unique in Indian political culture and appreciated throughout the country. With Gandhi’s call to shun all intoxicants, including opium, ganja and liquor, prohibition as a policy initiative became a major plank of nationalist politics. The act of renouncing and liquor and drugs represented a sobering symbol of freedom from colonial bondage.

Under Gandhi’s direction, the self-purification movement implied that abstinence in regard of drink and drugs was to be the starting point in unshackling the country from imperial slavery. He said, “I hold drink to be more damnable than thieving and perhaps prostitution. If I was appointed dictator for one hour for all India, the first thing I would do would be to close without compensation all the liquor shops.”Read More »

The Points Interview: Pamela Donovan

Editor’s Note: Pamela Donovan is the author of Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). She holds a PhD in Sociology from City University of New York Graduate Center. Donovan taught criminology and sociology courses for 20 years, and left academia to pursue freelance book editing and due diligence investigation. Her main areas of interest are drug and alcohol studies, as well as the small scholarly world of rumor studies. Her previous book was No Way of Knowing: Crime, Urban Legends and the Internet (Routledge, 2004).

1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
Well, there are bartenders as part of general audience that might be interested in this topic, and then there are bartenders as bartenders, particularly the ones at nightclubs, who no doubt have an interesting front line view of the current date-rape-drugs scare.
As an interested general audience, I’d say that my book is about the ways in which the fear, and occasional reality, of using drugs surreptitiously on people turns out to be related to other dramatic changes in modernizing societies. These changes include the psycho-pharmaceutical revolution that begins in the mid-1800s and really takes off in the mid-20th century. Governments and medical authorities try to create boundaries around usage that ordinary people resist and find ways around. We long for a series of precise and perfect cures, but we, at the same time, fear being controlled by chemically induced states of mind. We don’t feel like we can balance those benefits and risks ourselves. We are techno-utopians, when we feel as if psycho-pharma can deliver us to our real selves, and five seconds later, we are techno-dystopians, feeling as is we are at the mercy of bad actors who want to turn us into zombies. Read More »

Recent Publications in Contemporary Drug Problems: Europe Edition

Editor’s Note: Frequent readers may be familiar with the blog’s ongoing promotion of new, relevant dissertation research, but periodically we also highlight work published in journals and other peer-reviewed outlets. Each of the articles below appeared in recent issues of the journal Contemporary Drug Problems and concern topics of interest in countries across Europe. All titles contain links to the respective articles. Enjoy!

“Addiction in Europe, 1860s-1960s: Concepts and Responses in Italy, Poland, Austria, and the United Kingdom”

Virginia Berridge, Alex Mold, Franca Beccaria, Irmgard Eisenbach-Stangl, Grazyna Herczynska, Jacek Moskalewicz, Enrico Petrilli, Suzanne Taylor

Abstract: Concepts play a central part in the formulation of problems and proposed solutions to the use of substances. This article reports the initial results from a cross European historical study, carried out to a common methodology, of the language of addiction and policy responses in two key periods, 1860–1930 and the 1950s and 1960s. It concludes that the language of addiction was varied and nonstandard in the first period. The Anglo-American model of inebriety did not apply across Europe but there was a common focus on theories of heredity and national degeneration. After World War II, there was a more homogenous language but still distinct national differences in emphasis and national interests and policy responses to different substances. More research will be needed to deepen understanding of the conditions under which these changes took place and the social and policy appeal of disease theories.Read More »

The Points Interview: Claire Clark

Claire Clark teaches at the University of Kentucky, where she is an assistant professor of Behavioral Science, secondarily appointed in the Department of History, and associated with the Program for Bioethics. The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States (Columbia University Press, 2017) is a history of therapeutic community treatment for drug addiction.
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1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Recovery Revolution explores the rise of addiction treatment in the United States since the 1960s. It does this by tracing the development of a peer-led treatment model called the “therapeutic community” (TC). TCs in the US had their roots in a controversial California commune, Synanon, whose residents promoted a unique, neo-Victorian brand of drug treatment. At the time, addiction treatment was mostly limited to a few hospitals and correctional facilities; both elites and people struggling with addiction were frustrated with the existing options. A small group of self-described “ex-addicts” ignited a treatment revolution in response, and their moral treatment philosophy had an outsized influence on the industry that developed in the decades that followed.Read More »

Drugs and African History

Editor’s Note: Frequent readers may be familiar with the blog’s ongoing promotion of new, relevant dissertation research (’tis the season!), but periodically we also highlight work published in journals and other peer-reviewed outlets. Each of the recent articles below by scholar Thembisa Waetjen offers new perspectives on the significance of drug use, commerce, and regulation in Africa. Enjoy!

“The Rise and Fall of the Opium Trade in the Transvaal, 1904–1910”

Journal of African Studies (2017)

Abstract: From 1904 to 1910, the transport and confinement of over 63,000 men from north-eastern China, recruited and indentured as unskilled mining labour, stimulated a new market for opium on the Witwatersrand, at the very moment when other British colonies and other empires were pushing towards co-ordinated action to curb the trade. This article plots the development and shape of opium commerce in the Transvaal colony, revealing local patterns of entrepreneurship and articulations between licit and illicit circuits in the narcotic supply chain. In a bid to monopolise control and profits, the Government set up a bureaucracy of drug provision, working with the Chamber of Mines and organised pharmacy and medicine interests. However, the continuing preference of indentured migrants for informal networks of supply, despite higher prices, points to the importance of the trade within the social and material economies of the mining compound. With political changes in both colony and metropole, and the termination of the Chinese Labour Importation scheme, the presence of opium on the Rand was drawn into the anti-opium politics of the imperial public sphere. White racial anxieties about the ‘spread’ of opium smoking were crystallised in the image of the opium den as a locus of depravity. However, it was neither moral nor social arguments, but rather the expulsion of the population officially targeted for drug use, that curtailed the trade in opium on the Witwatersrand.Read More »