All serious historians of alcohol and drugs will be saddened to hear of the passing, last week, of Ernest (“Ernie”) Kurtz, the first and foremost historian of Alcoholics Anonymous. Kurtz’s commanding Not-God: a History of Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1979 by Hazelden. Though Ernie often talked about how AA history in the decades since Not-God appeared had outstripped its claims, and in fact called from the pages of Points for a revised and updated history of AA, his book remains the definitive word on the fellowship’s founding and early growth.
Kurtz wrote Not-God as his dissertation; he earned a Phd in the American Civilization program at Harvard University (a fact that I don’t hold against him, even though I attended a different and really much better American Studies program down the road). The volume’s power arises from his ability to situate its founders and their fledgling organization within the context of American religious and cultural history. Like two other compelling historians of AA, Damien McElrath and Glenn Chesnutt, Kurtz was positioned well to inquire into the program’s spiritual foundations: after earning a BA in philosophy from St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, New York, he entered the priesthood and served as a parish priest from 1961 to 1966. I’ll leave it to better Catholics than myself to sort out whether it was Ernie’s seminary training or his departure from the church in the late 1970s that gave him such penetrating insight into the ways AA manifested what he came to call “the spirituality of imperfection.”Read More »
Editor’s Note: Readers will recognized “Matthew J. Raphael” as the pen name of well-known literary scholar who authored the outstanding biography Bill W. and Mr. Wilson; he recently reviewed the documentary Bill W. for Points. Here he muses on the poor fit between academic values, Amazon.com, and AA’s 11th Tradition.
When Bill W. and Mr. Wilson appeared in 2000, it was featured by the Chronicle of Higher Education, largely because of its pseudonymous authorship – so rare an anomaly for this journal that it begged explanation. It seemed eccentric, if not vegetarian, for me to be renouncing explicit recognition for anything within academe’s carnivorous realm, where clawing for visibility names the game. The Chronicle reporter wondered earnestly whether or not the book would appear on my updated CV. If not, would I forfeit a salary bump for meritorious work?
I explained the AA tradition of anonymity at the level of press, radio, and film (later expanded to other public media). I added that the tradition did not preclude revealing my identity, if I pleased, under less public circumstances, such as submitting my CV.
In 2000, there was no great mystery, below the public level, about who had written Bill W. and Mr. Wilson, particularly among those in the incipient field of Alcohol and Addiction Studies. I think my authorship has since become more or less common knowledge, although “Matthew J. Raphael” remains the author when the book appears in the bibliographies of related studies; and it is not placed among my other publications at, say, Amazon.com. More on that presently.
I had originally regarded Bill Wilson skeptically: as a braggart and egoist, quick on the draw in promoting himself. My first impression was confirmed to a degree. Read More »
The Drugs, Security and Democracy (DSD) Program provides support for research across a variety of disciplines—anthropology, sociology, criminology, history, political science, economics, journalism, public policy, legal studies, public health, and other related fields—to create a network of scholars interested in developing alternative approaches to drug policy and fostering strategies that address the growth of transnational organized crime.
The competition is open to PhD candidates and recent PhD recipients worldwide. The program strives to create a stronger, more systematized knowledge base on drugs, security and democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean; to build capacity—both institutional and individual—by supporting relevant research; and to encourage policy-relevant, evidence-based research that could lead to the development of alternatives to present-day security and drug policies. To watch a video about the program featuring DSD fellows, click here.) For information on proposal development for this competition, please view our recent webinar [in Spanish] here.
FELLOWSHIP RESEARCH AGENDA, DSD funded research must address the theme of drugs and at least one of the other two themes of security and democracy in Latin America or the Caribbean. These topics may include, but should not be limited to, the following issues and areas of study: political economy, anti-democratic strategies used by communities or states, legal frameworks and analyses, the impact on vulnerable groups, and the role of elites. The program encourages interdisciplinary and comparative projects and those that address transnational and trans-regional issues. We encourage research in or about countries or themes that have been underrepresented in the program’s previously funded projects. Please click here for a list of funded projects from 2011 and 2012.
Applications are welcome from graduate students and postdoctoral researchers conducting research that addresses the theme of drugs and at least one of the other two themes of security and democracy in Latin America or the Caribbean. Eligible applicants will fall into one of the following two categories:
Dissertation Fellowship: This competition is open to PhD and JSD candidates worldwide who have an approved dissertation prospectus by July 1, 2013, but have not completed writing for final submission.
Postdoctoral Fellowship: The competition is open to PhD and JSD recipients worldwide who have completed their degree within 7 years of the application deadline.
If you are proposing to conduct research in a non-native language, you should provide evidence of the necessary proficiency to carry out the project. The program strongly encourages citizens and residents of Latin America and the Caribbean to apply.
Fellowship Terms: The DSD Program provides support for a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 12 months of research. Candidates based outside of Latin America or the Caribbean must spend at least three months conducting research in the region. Fellowship amounts vary depending on the research plan; however, support will be provided for travel and living expenses as well as associated research costs based on a budget reviewed by the SSRC. The fellowship is intended to support an individual researcher, regardless of whether that individual is working alone or in collaboration with others. Recipients of the DSD Fellowship are expected to devote themselves full-time to their DSD research during the tenure of the fellowship. The fellowship includes mandatory participation in two interdisciplinary workshops, one preceding fellowship research and one upon completion of the fellowship tenure. Workshops will be organized by the SSRC and held in Latin America in late July or early August. Travel and accommodations will be provided.
DSD is funded by the Open Society Foundations and the International Development Research Centre. The program is a partnership between OSF, IDRC, the SSRC, Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas in Mexico. For more information please visit our program webpage http://www.ssrc.org/programs/dsd and contact dsd [at ssrc [dot] org with any questions.
Editor’s Note: Okay, Points readers– show that analogue crew over at NPR what you’ve got.
Always wanted to be on the radio? Here’s your chance! BackStory, a history-focused public radio show, is tackling drugs. They’re looking for input from historians and non-historians alike. Here’s the scoop: BackStory is a weekly, hour-long show hosted by three historians: Brian Balogh and Peter Onuf of the University of Virginia, and Ed Ayers of the University of Richmond. We air on various NPR stations around the country.
Each week, we put together a handful of stories and ideas to illuminate some broad historical topic: body image, say, or US-Cuban relations, or epidemic disease. Points was kind enough to feature our show on alcohol over the summer. And now we’re tackling a show on drugs, so we turn to you all again.
Specifically, we’re looking for folks to call in to the show for a little conversation with our hosts. Some of our favorite callers have brought up personal stories or anecdotes from the present day; the discussion with our hosts helps historicize what’s going on now. But if you just have a burning question about the history of drugs, or an idea you want to bounce off three historians, that’s great too. It’ll only take about ten minutes, and should be fun, low-key, and illuminating — and you get to be on the radio! We’re not a live show, so calls will be recorded ahead of time. The show will be released Jan 11th.
We’re looking to record calls right after New Year’s, so if you’re interested, let us know asap. Drop us an email at backstory [at] virginia [dot] edu, or leave a note on our webpage. We’ll get in touch with you to tell you a little more about how this works. Thanks! Jess, Associate Producer
Editor’s Note: As of this post, Points will be going on a “holiday hiatus” schedule– a light posting regime that reflects the editorial crew’s commitment to spending the holidays doing life rather than history. We’ll resume regular posting at the end of January 2013. I should also note that this will be my last post as Managing Editor; Eoin Cannon will take over that role next month with elan, aplomb, and a host of other personal traits that sound like exotic desserts.
Given that the idea for Points originated when I wrote a reflection on David Foster Wallace’s death for the ADHS “Daily Register” back in 2009 (scroll about halfway down if you want to see it), it seems fitting that my last editorial effort here is the interview that follows with D.T. Max, author of the impressive new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. With the help of Rich C., one of Wallace’s sponsors, Max has constructed a picture of the author’s life that gives addiction and recovery the pride of place they deserve. This account reveals a hugely gifted intellectual struggling not only with clinical depression, but with another conundrum– less clinical but still debilitating: how to speak and write the language of the heart in a world that values the body and the head over that more delicate organ.
Points: Not much of the critical literature on DFW attends to the role of addiction and recovery in his life and work. Your book puts them at the center, arguing that his participation in 12-Step culture accounts in many ways for this turn away from postmodern form and (non)feeling and towards fiction that is earnest, morally engaged, and “‘about what it is like to be a fucking human being’” (178). Can you talk a bit about how you came to see addiction and recovery as central to our understanding of DFW?
DTM: I think the single biggest force on David, from the time he entered a twelve-step program in 1988 for the first time until his death, was that program. Read More »
The popularity of HBO’s The Wire among legal academics — especially scholars of criminal law–responds to the same transformations in the legal field that have made empirical studies increasingly influential there. But might the satisfaction of getting “realism” from a DVD (or download) deter a scholar from trading the couch for the backseat of a police car?
Empirical knowledge about law is enjoying unprecedented prestige in both law schools and courts. Read More »
Editor’s Note: last summer, Points ran a call for participants in a working group focused on “Challenging Punishment”; this conference is a related but separate event, with its own deadlines.
Friday 4 October and Saturday 5 October, 2013 will see the Challenging Punishment Conference, a two-day critical dialogue among scholars and researchers; health and legal workers; activists and advocates; artists and cultural producers to discuss the relevant issues about the War on Drugs, declared by President Richard Milhouse Nixon in 1971 and now in its fifth decade. The meetings will be held in New York City, on the campus of Columbia University and at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York Public Library). The institutional sponsor is the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS), at Columbia University. Organizers Donna Murch, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University and Samuel Roberts, Associate Professor of History (Columbia University) and Sociomedical Sciences (Mailman School of Public Health) invite interested parties to submit detailed abstracts of no more than 500 words, describing papers, projects, or panels to challengingpunishment [at] gmail [dot] com by 15 February 2013.
We are facing a moment of crisis and opportunity in the United States’ War(s) on Drugs (WoD). Official federal sanction against drug use is nearly a century old. For many decades since, there have been dissenting voices calling for the relaxation or abandonment of criminal penalties in favor of addiction treatment, mental health care provision, and other public health measures. More recently, even many law enforcement officials, former drug warriors, and conservative opinion makers have declared the War on Drugs a resounding failure. Punitive response continues nonetheless as the nation’s dominant domestic and international drug policy; and drug-related prosecutions since 1980 constitute the largest category of offenses contributing to the expansion of the prison system and — more generally — the carceral state. The War on Drugs is now a crisis of immense proportions.
This conference’s title, “Challenging Punishment,” has two meanings. On the one hand, it refers to the current state of substance abuse policy — which favors incarceration and social immobilization (punishment) over mental health care provision and community empowerment — that very literally challenges the realization of social justice, autonomy, and freedom. At the same time, the participants assembled for this conference will individually and collectively challenge this state of affairs within a wide range of academic/disciplinary research agendas, professional engagements, political mobilizations, and creative expressions.
Topics to be addressed will include (but are not limited to): the carceral state, criminal and juvenile justice policy; importance of race, class gender, sexuality, citizenship status and indigeneity in driving drug policy and mass incarceration; public health and therapeutic culture; punitive vs. redistributive social policy; informal, illicit and underground economies; licit drugs and pharmaceutical industry; culture wars and drug wars; and finally, mobilizing and building coalitions against the War on Drugs.
Editor’s Note: Guest Blogger Chris Bennet takes us inside the Cannabis Roots Conference held this November in Vancouver, Canada — complete with video from each session!
When thinking of the history of marijuana, most people’s minds go back to the hippy era of the 60s and the pot smoking flower-children whose peace and love ideals have forever changed our culture. Some might even dig a little deeper, recalling the 1930’s Reefer Madness era, where blacks and whites shared ‘marihuana cigarettes’ at tea houses while creating a new genre of music and breaking long-held racial barriers. However, few people realize that cannabis has played a role in human history for at least tens of thousand years, or that even thousands of years ago, its use as a medicine and inebriant was known and reached from the Russian Steppes to China, India, Greece, the Middle East, Central Europe and other areas of the Old World. Indeed, even in ancient times, as today, it was a prominent item of trade, and it influenced these cultures in a variety of ways, just as it does for better or worse in our own. The Cannabis Roots conference explored and discussed this area of cannabis history with some of the top experts in the world.
Held November 3rd, 2012 in Canada’s Vancouver, British Columbia, Cannabis Culture Vapor Lounge, which also hosts the incredible collection of drug artifacts housed in ‘The Herb Museum,’ this one day event took place in what might be considered a ‘relaxed’ environment. Attended by about 70 people, it was also streamed live. The lectures are archived and provided in this article.
The event brought together a number of academics and authors who have written about the topic, and they all provided entertaining accounts of cannabis’ fascinating role and potential role in a number of areas of world history.Read More »
In my recent book Gaga Feminism, I turn to The Wire for wisdom about power, gender relations, sex and violence. If you know where to look,
you can find pieces of gaga feminism, gaga-ideology strewn throughout this acclaimed HBO series. Filled with life lessons and hard knock truths about “the game,” or the perpetual struggle between the law and those people it fails to protect, the street and those people who are sacrificed upon it, professions and those people who learn how to work their success while engineering everyone else’s failure, this series has more to say about the inertia of race and class relations in the US than anything else in TV ever.
Set in Baltimore over in five glorious seasons, The Wire explores the warfare between drug dealers and drug addicts, between detectives and city hall, between the fine shades of right and the nuanced areas of wrong. And all of these epic, Shakespearian dramas play out against the backdrop of school, kinship, intimacy, homoerotic bonding, lesbian parenting, divorce, alcoholism, courage, love and loss.
Unlike recent “gay positive” sit-com fare like The New Normal or Modern Family, The Wire does not feel the need to situate its gay, lesbian or queer characters on the side of the right, the good and the true. It does not seek to correct negative images and it does not idealize or unnecessarily heroize those characters, or any characters, along the way. Instead, The Wire gives us magnificently complex, contradictory, flawed queer characters who, like everyone else in the series, kill, maim, struggle, fight and die.Read More »
Editor’s Note: Today we welcome the return of guest blogger Toine Pieters, Descartes Institute for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences, Utrecht University, who wrote memorably about the use of “sewage epidemiology” as a tool for tracking drug use a few weeks ago. His post today is slightly more conventional, but no less cutting-edge.
This is a corrected version of the original post. Thanks to Hans Bosman and Toine Pieters for working out the edits and amendations. –eds.
For most of us coca and cocaine production and distribution is synonymous with Latin American drugs cartels and Colombian drug lords. It is also common knowledge that Britain and other European empires ruled the waves during the 19th century opium wars and up to the 1920s did everything to frustrate the American-led war against drugs. Only those who read Joseph Spillane’s Cocaine: from Medical Marvel to Modern Menace (2000) may remember that by far the most successful alternative coca growing venture outside Latin America before 1945 was in the Dutch East Indies on the island of Java. Spillane briefly mentions that Dutch colonial coca production began to dominate the global markets in the1910s and crowded South American producers from these markets. It is not farfetched to argue that the Dutch were the drug lords of the interbellum and continued to play a prominent position in the global narcotics industry after World War II.
Up until recently we knew relatively little about the halcyon days of Dutch drug production and trade. But on November 8 the 82 year old former employee of the Dutch Cocaine Factory (NCF), Hans Bosman, defended his thesis on ‘The history of the Nederlandsche Cocaine Fabriek and its successors as manufacturers of narcotic drugs, analysed from an international perspective’ at Maastricht University.
From the 1860s until the turn of the century Peru was the major source by far of the raw materials for cocaine: coca leaves and later on also crude cocaine. The coca leaves were used in Europe and the US for the popular cocaine-containing elixirs and tonics. Cultivation of the coca plant was attempted in a number of countries outside South America, notably on Java and Ceylon. In 1875 the Botanical Garden of Buitenzorg introduced two coca plants on the island of Java, which was at that time part of the Netherlands East Indies. Java coca had a high total alkaloid content but was initially rejected by cocaine manufacturers as a raw material. Java coca contained mainly secondary coca-alkaloids and the direct yield of cocaine from the leaves was low. Chewing Java coca leaves did not evoke the same energizing sensation as Peruvian coca.Read More »