Workshop Report: Drugs and the Politics of Consumption in Japan

Editor’s Note: This workshop report is from Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, an associate professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who recently traveled to Switzerland for the event.

A workshop entitled “Drugs and the Politics of Consumption in Japan” was held at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, from Aug. 22-24, 2019. It was organized by Dr. Judith Vitale with the help of Ulrich Brandenburg of the host institution. The workshop was impressively multinational, bringing together speakers representing universities from six countries and three continents. 

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Points Bookshelf: “Imperial Twilight” by Stephen R. Platt

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, an associate professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

Screenshot 2019-09-05 at 8.18.45 AMWithin the field of Chinese history, the Opium War, fought in the southern port city of Canton (Guangzhou) and its environs from 1839-1842, is among the most exhaustively researched of topics. Scholars have long argued for the significance of this nineteenth-century clash between the British and Chinese empires, representing it as the beginning of the latter’s infamous “century of humiliation” at the hands of the great powers. Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of the China’s Last Golden Age (Knopf, 2018) does not dispute this view of the conflict as a watershed marking British ascendancy and Chinese decline. However, Stephen Platt’s highly readable and original book does overturn various longstanding assumptions about the events leading up to the war. In particular, he shows how small moments of frustration and miscommunication changed the course of history. 

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Introducing the Oxford Companion to Global Drug History

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia , professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Today she reports on the ADHS conference held last week in Shanghai, China, and the upcoming publication of a potentially very useful new book for drug and alcohol scholars around the globe. 

In its earliest phase, the historiography of intoxicants generally focused on (inter)national attempts to bring troublesome substances under state control, particularly in western Europe and the United States. The past twenty-five years or so have witnessed the rise of the “New Drug History,” which breaks free of this legal and diplomatic history chrysalis to consider social, cultural and ideological issues pertaining to both licit and illicit substances. This New Drug History is not simply history, but rather an interdisciplinary mobilization of approaches and insights from anthropology, sociology, economics, ethnography, medicine, science and technology studies, literary studies, religious studies, and other disciplines. Recent scholars have taken up topics such as the constructed nature of “addiction,” attempts to alleviate and intervene against narcotics dependence, urban communities of users, and the significations of intoxicants in fiction, film, and the media. Illustrating the reach of narcotics into every aspect of public and private life, the diverse sources for these projects include (but are not limited to) newspapers, periodicals, statistical surveys, travel narratives, eyewitness accounts, personal testimonies, medical journals, clinical records, advertisements, photographs, and art.

Of equal importance to the making of the New Drug History is the long overdue representation of the non-West. No longer does research on Europe and the United States dominate the field. By examining Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, historians (including those born and employed in these regions) have not only brought previously unstudied drug cultures to light, but have also challenged colleagues to rethink the traditional narration of the history of intoxicants as a telos toward Western power and domination.

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Points Bookshelf: “A Thirst for Empire” by Erika Rappaport

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia , professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her review is part of the Points Bookshelf project, in which we review books about alcohol and drug history. 

Screenshot 2019-05-21 at 8.55.11 AMThe history of tea has been told many times by scholars and by connoisseurs. Firmly situated within the academic historiography but as beautifully illustrated as a work of art is Erika Rappaport’s A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World (Princeton University Press, 2017). Through the vehicle of transnational commodity history, Rappaport draws together micro-dramas such as Indian soldiers drinking tea with English nurses in a British mosque in World War II (an incident depicted on the cover and the inspiration for the introductory anecdote), within the macro context of empire-building, nation formation and global capitalist development from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries.

The book consists of three sections. Part I, “Anxious Relations,” examines the incorporation of tea into the early modern British economy and culture. Part II, “Imperial Tastes,” looks at producers and consumers in the tea market in Great Britain and its empire from the late Victorian era through World War II. Finally, “Imperial Aftertastes” explores the impacts of decolonization and the end of the geopolitical hegemony of Great Britain on the global tea industry. Given the relative dearth of scholarship on tea in contemporary times (especially compared with the exhaustive historiography on the early modern and imperial periods), it is regrettable that Part III is the shortest in the book.  

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The Room Where It Really Happened: The Fraunces Tavern Museum

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia , professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In it, she continues her series of museum reviews, all of which you can see here

The Fraunces Tavern Museum is located in lower Manhattan, New York. Conveniently, given the difficulty of driving in the area, it is less than five minutes’ walk from numerous subway stops, including Staten Island Ferry (the 1 line), Wall St. (2 and 3), Bowling Green (4 and 5), Whitehall St. (R and W), and Broad St. (J and Z). Adult admission is $7, but holders of a New York City library card are entitled to two free tickets per month. A visit can be expected to take about one hour. At 3 p.m. on a Monday, I had most of the galleries to myself, but 25,000 patrons are said to pass through annually. The museum is open weekdays from noon to 5 p.m. and weekends from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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The Fraunces Tavern Museum

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Crime and Punishment, But No Victims: The Mob Museum of Las Vegas

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia. In it, she continues her series of museum reviews with a visit to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. Photos by Dr. Kadia. 

Although most tourists probably don’t associate Las Vegas with museums, the city is in fact home to some noteworthy institutions. One interesting example is the Mob Museum, located downtown in a former courthouse. At $26.95 for out-of-state adult admission ($16.95 for Nevada residents with ID) entry is not cheap, but perhaps a bargain compared with the casinos up the street. One might easily spend as much as three hours perusing the three stories of exhibits and basement reconstructions of a speakeasy and distillery.

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The Mob Museum of Las Vegas

The exhibition begins on the third floor with a discussion of the origins of the Mob in the late nineteenth century. Curators narrate: whereas most immigrants to the U.S. were “good,” “a few thought they would choose a shortcut to the American dream.” Evoking Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign comments about “bad hombres,” the museum’s casual scapegoating of Irish, Italian, and Jewish foreigners for mobsterism feels not only misleading but dangerous.

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Towards a Global History of Intoxicants: The War on Alcohol

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia , professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In it, she brings a global focus to drug and alcohol history and reviews Lisa McGirr’s book on federal Prohibition. Enjoy!

Screenshot 2018-10-18 at 8.23.09 AMLisa McGirr’s stimulating recent book The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State (Norton, 2016) links early twentieth-century temperance to the origins of the muscular federal authority we know today. Historians typically trace the enlargement of state power to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s efforts to lift the United States out of the Depression in the 1930s. However, McGirr points to earlier growth in the Prohibition era. By creating new categories of legal violations, the ban on brewing and selling alcohol transformed crime into a “national obsession” for the first time in American history. The government responded to public panic by expanding law enforcement—a measure whose effects linger today in such forms as the War on Drugs.

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