Points on Blogs: Reading *The Neuro Times*

“Points on Blogs” returns this week, with a visit to The Neuro Times, “an historical blog dedicated to neurology and neuroscience.”  The Neuro Times is the work of Dr. Stephen T. Casper, an Assistant Professor in the History of Science at Clarkson University, along with a small group of contributors.  Casper recevied his doctorate in the History of Medicine from University College London, where he studied the history of British neurology.  Here’s how he describes the blog:

The Dictionary of Neurology Project seeks to inform scholars, physicians, scientists and the wider public about trends in the history of neurology and neuroscience. While it is foremostly concerned with promoting history for the sake of history, the project also seeks to inform about and critique the growth of “neuroculture,” a trend that has emerged in various quarters in the last two decades to ascribe complex elements of culture and society to human neurobiology. 

Our contributors provide commentary, critique, and high quality content about the neurosciences, and we seek to establish and build a broad and global community that engages in historical and sociological studies devoted to the many sciences (clincial and basic) that primarily focus on the nervous system. This blog, in consequence, serves university and medical communities as well as wider publics.   

Should Points readers care?  Not long ago, David Courtwright urged fellow historians to

Poster for the film The Pusher

Holding a copy of Addiction Biology?

“take a hit” of neuroscience, adding in good pusher fashion, “just don’t get addicted.” David made it clear what he meant: “Suspicion of scientific arrogance and imperialism ought not to prevent anyone from the selective appropriation of research insights, especially those  that illuminate the common or synergistic features of drug action.” (1)  Meant as a provocation of sorts, David’s call for common ground between history and neuroscience certainly does not go so far as to suggest that historians drop their posture of suspicion (nor do posts like this one suggest any impending sense of mutuality between fields).  And that, it seems to me, is where The Neuro Times helps, by creating a space for well-informed suspicion. Continue reading

Points on Blogs: The Quack Doctor

The “Points on Blogs” feature takes a bit of a break this week, offering a quick look at The Quack Doctor, a blog published by Caroline Rance.  Caroline is a writer of historical fiction, whose first novel (Kill-Grief) has recently been published, and who describes The Quack Doctor as follows:

I started The Quack Doctor as a useful way of categorising some notes I’d made about patent remedies in history – but it turned out that lots of other people liked to read about them too! The featured items are mainly from 19th-century British and US newspapers, but there are a few 18th- and 20th-century ones too. There are also occasional adverts for cosmetics, and some for products that were considered orthodox medicine in their time. Inclusion on the site doesn’t mean I’m necessarily condemning a product as ‘quackery’ – any medical advertising counts, and sometimes I post about more general history of medicine topics too.

Visitors to the site will find a legion of entertaining entries, like this post on “Habitina: An Infallible Remedy for Addiction” (produced in the United States between 1906 and 1912, and consisting primarily of morphine!).  There’s even an interesting post on Tucker’s Asthma Specific, a cocaine-based asthma cure I ran across in the course of research cocaine’s early history. Caroline tells me a few things I did not know about Tucker’s Asthma Specific, including that it was sold in the UK as well as in the United States, and that the company continued operations until 1959 (despite the making of their product having been declared a violation of the Harrison Act by 1915).  Very odd!  Makes me want to investigate further.

Tucker's Asthma Specific

Of course, not many of the posts deal directly with questions of addiction (though the blog is helpfully organized so that you can find them pretty readily).  Most simply bring the reader back into the world of patent medicines and medical promotion in the U.S. and England.  Continue reading

Points on Blogs: Sterling on Justice and Drugs

The contemporary drug law reform movement holds varying levels of interest for historians of drugs and alcohol.  Drugs historians with an interest in modern drug policy are more likely to find would-be reformers relevant as both subjects and audience; for other historians, contemporary reform may simply be of interest as a personal, political cause.  This entry in the “Points on Blogs” series takes a look at drug war criticism on the web, of which there’s no shortage!  For U.S.-based drug law reform (more on the weird dearth of transnational activism below), readers could certainly begin with the Drug Policy Alliance.  Founder and director Ethan Nadelmann (author of some very historically-informed works of scholarship) has overseen the development of a DPA site that is content-rich and user friendly.  The DPA hosts an online resource library (the Lindesmith Library, named for early drug war critic and sociologist Alfred Lindesmith) with more than 15,000 documents and videos.  As for bloggers, drug war reformers would do well to consider Pete Guither’s blog Drug WarRant, or StoptheDrugWar.org (especially the Speakeasy blog).  For today, however, I’ll focus on another blog: Sterling on Justice and Drugs.

Remember Prohibition

History's lessons made simple!

Sterling is Eric Sterling, who clearly knows a thing or two about justice and drugs.  For historians of recent U.S. drug policy, he’s an historical actor in his own right–as Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee for ten years, he helped the Subcommittee on Crime develop the now-notorious Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988.  Almost immediately thereafter, Sterling became active in reform circles.  He serves as President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (and Sterling on Justice and Drugs is, effectively, the blog of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation). Continue reading

Points on Blogs: Understanding Society

There’s plenty of self-promoting, self-referential nonsense out there in the blogosphere.  When it came time to thinking about “Points on Blogs,” well…let’s just say that your editor did not feel this feature needed to promote the self-promoting, or add layers of nonsense to the nonsensical.  Consequently, we were very pleased to be able to bring to the Points readership the earnest inquiry of the Drugs, Law and Conflict blog and the vivid explorations of the Res Obscura blog.  Last time, I promised we’d “go drinking” in this installment, but I’ve decided to “go thinking” instead.  Our third blog is Prof. Daniel Little’s Understanding Society, and it moves away from the realm of alcohol and drugs particularly, to the broad questions that animate our investigations.  Little is a professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he is also currently university chancellor.  Here’s how he describes his intellectual orientation on the front page of Understanding Society: “I am a philosopher of social science with a strong interest in China and Southeast Asia. Right now I’m thinking about how to reformulate the philosophy of history in a way that is more closely related to the practice of contemporary historians. I think philosophers need to interact seriously and extensively with working social scientists and historians if they are going to be able to make a useful contribution.”

Crowds cheer war

Crowds cheer for war--understand them?

As for Understanding Society, calling it a blog doesn’t quite capture what Little is trying to accomplish.  The recipe for a typical academic blog mixes small amounts of extended analysis with a larger portion of timely reaction pieces, all baked together with heaping pile of whatever comes to mind at the moment.  In contrast, here’s Little’s goal, in his own words: “This site addresses a series of topics in the philosophy of social science. What is involved in “understanding society”? The blog is an experiment in thinking, one idea at a time. Look at it as a web-based, dynamic monograph on the philosophy of social science and some foundational issues about the nature of the social world.”  Indeed, one can find the entire site organized into a table of contents, or obtain the entire contents through July, 2011 in monograph form (obtained free from the site as a 1234-page[!] pdf file).

Needless to say, that’s a lot to go through.  Why should historians of drugs and alcohol care?

Continue reading

Points on Blogs: Res Obscura

Let’s begin with an admission of failure.  When the Points blog first rolled out in January, a couple of our first comments were posted by early modern historians of alcohol and drugs.  One of my cheery replies (with exclamation): “One of the great challenges with having a lot of modernists running this blog is to make sure we don’t lose sight of what’s happening in the early modern world!”  Alas, our Points-sight is no better now than then.  The only good news today is the continued existence of Res Obscura, a blog published by one of those early commenters, Ben Breen.  Ben’s a graduate student at UT-Austin, studying the early modern trade in medicinal drugs, specifically in the worlds of the Portuguese and British empires.  I don’t know if he’s published any of this work yet, but Res Obscura is a compelling blog, well worth the time and attention of our readers.  Here’s why:

Continue reading

Points on Blogs: Drugs, Law and Conflict

Good blogs are hard to find.  Literally. One of the weird quirks of our marvelously interconnected age is how challenging it remains to locate good blogs in one’s field of interest.  They’re out there, but existing methods of web searching aren’t particularly helpful in locating them.  Sure, we can use basic search engines to find bits and pieces of language–”opium” “moral panic” “Quaalude”–but more often than not, there’s no efficient mechanism for finding tone, point of view, organization, or quality.  Those are the things that matter, and it is in that spirit that this ongoing series takes a closer look at some blogs of interest.

The first of these is a sole-authored blog called Drugs, Law and Conflict.  The blog’s author is Nina Catalano, currently of Harvard Law School.  If you head over to the blog, you’ll notice that Drugs, Law and Conflict has been on hiatus for about a year.  Nina reports that the blog may start back up again this fall.  Even if it doesn’t, the archive of posts from September 2008 through August 2010 (and there are a lot of them) constitute a useful collection that retains a great deal of value. Continue reading

Points on Blogs, Coming Soon

Vacation is Over

Editors’ Note: Next week we begin a new series introducing our readers to other interesting and/or useful blogs.  From the beginnings of the Points blog, we have been conscious–and appreciative–of the work of our fellow bloggers, but have spent precious little time acknowledging that work.  Dedicated readers of Points will remember this early exchange with Mikelis Beitiks of the Mexican Opium blog, including his thoughtful response.  There’s certainly more worthy blogging to be discussed here.  We don’t include a blogroll on this site (we’re happy whenever Points turns up on other blogrolls, of course), so this series will serve as our guide to the engaging and provocative world beyond.  We’ll begin the series next week.  This post is something of a call to action for our readers.  If you have suggestions for blogs to be reviewed in this series, please let us know!  Bear in mind that blogs do not have to be purely academic, or historical–we’ve happy to feature work that speaks to drug and alcohol issues from any number of perspectives.  Send your suggestions via a comment on this post, or write directly to Joe Spillane (spillane at ufl dot edu). Thanks.