Editor’s Note: Between June 22 and June 25, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society organized its biennial conference in Utrecht, The Netherlands. In three day-by-day reports, some attendees will reflect upon the proceedings and their highlights. Today’s post was provided by Drs. Berrie van der Molen and Lisanne Walma.
Despite the rain, and what for some had probably been an intense night of conviviality, a lot of people made sure to turn up for the early Sunday sessions. Their persistence was definitely rewarded as Sunday proved to have a number of essential panels in store at what had already been a very inspiring conference so far! The five panels featured papers taking everyone all over the world and through time: we overheard many attendees finding it difficult to choose from the diverse options.
The cannabis panel showed us the role of different types of activism in cannabis debates, from UK patient groups, US psychiatrists to counterculture. Suzanne Taylor rightly pointed out that the re-medicalization of cannabis in the United Kingdom would not have happened without the MS patient advocacy group lobbying for its use. Chris Elcock explained how American counterculture’s call for cannabis decriminalization was actually part of a broader movement, embedded in the political agendas of the time. The resulting discussion nicely followed up on the Saturday evening panel about grassroots activism and the historian. For example, we discussed how much of the historiography in the United States on cannabis is marked by pro-cannabis legalization efforts and how this influenced further historical research.
In the panel “framing new intoxicants” anthropologists, literature scholars and historians came together. The panel focused on substances that have received less scholarly attention, such as cider or coffee, as well as less studied locations of substance use, such as Birma and 18th-century coffee houses. Noticeable was the attention for the interaction between the substances and the setting. For example, Anuj Gupta argued that the use of coffee helped shaped public discourse in 18th-century coffee houses by influencing the mindset of the people using it. Moreover, Luke Corbin explained that the newly emerged beer shops in Birma gave drinking a more masculine and dangerous reputation than it had in the former teashops.
After drawing comparisons between Norway’s historical Vagrancy Act against drunkenness and contemporary penalties for drug offenses, criminologist Randi Ervik remarked that academics “are not so political anymore, they are focusing on their articles”. It was poignant to see that, after papers by Dan Malleck (with fascinating discursive analysis of Canadian cannabis legalization policy documents) and William Rorabaugh (with a detailed overview of post-prohibition regulation in the US), Julio Delmanto positioned himself explicitly as an activist before sharing his doctoral research on (anti-)prohibition in Brazil. This is also interesting in light of Kelly Jones’ remark in #ADHS2017 Report II about the difficulties historians face in injecting nuance and context instead of providing easy-to-swallow soundbites. Do we need to be activists, or should we remain more analytical in an attempt to avoid presentist historiography?
It was a morning full of grass and grassroots and, as the last attendees made their way towards the University College gate across the damp lawns, we felt profoundly happy about the past 72 hours of stimulating content, conversation and reflection. As part of the organizing committee of 2017’s ADHS conference we would like to thank all who attended and/or contributed in any way to what Lucas Richert called a ‘magical’ conference on Twitter. We’re more than happy to agree with him and we look forward to the next conference!