Dissertation Roundup: Interpreting Drug Use and Smuggling in History

Editor’s Note: Today we bring you another selection of drug-related dissertations, dutifully compiled as part of an ongoing bibliography by University of Pittsburgh History of Medicine Librarian Jonathon Erlen. Contact him at Erlen@pitt.edu. 

Narcomundo: How Narcotraficantes Gained Control of Northern Mexico and Beyond, 1945-1985

Author: Hernandez, Carlos Armando

Abstract: Mexico’s official history does not properly address the Drug Wars and its effect on the nation as well as the U.S. – Mexico border region, including criminal spillover between the two countries especially since 1911. Drawing from evidence gathered at Mexico’s National Archives – specifically declassified documents from Mexico’s secret police files – contemporary news accounts from Tijuana, Mexico City, and California, as well as court cases and long ignored political biographies, I trace the historical origins of the Drug Wars in Northern Mexico extending into Mexico City; a history of drugs, dissidence, and violence. The First Phase goes back to the year 1911 when General and later Governor Esteban Cantú arrived to defend the Northern Territory of Baja California against incursions from Southern California by the Flores Magón brothers during the start of the Mexican Revolution. This was also a period where the role of vice tourism in Tijuana and Mexicali profited from the Prohibition Era in the United States (1920-1933) set the foundations for a drug trafficking model– developed for Baja Norte by Governor Cantú. This cross-border smuggling model was later refined in Baja under General and then Governor Abelardo L. Rodríguez (1921-1930), who then took the model to Mexico when he joined President Ortiz as a Secretary of Defense (1932) and Economy (1932) before he became Interim President of Mexico (1932-1934). The model has held to this day. The Second Phase encompasses Mexico’s official start on the War on Drugs from 1945 to 1985 and coincides not surprisingly with the start of the Cold War in the late 1940s. In this Second Phase I analyze the consolidation and metamorphoses of Drug Trafficking Organizations in Mexico’s War on Drugs up to 1960. Thus, I explore the connection between East-Coast based Mafia and its incursion and eventual control of the drug trade and organized crime in the West Coast as well as eventually the transborder region. I also analyze the early eradication campaigns carried out by Mexican authorities first on their Baja regional level and subsequently at the national level. I also examine links between “Bugsy” Siegel and his alleged control of the drug trade in Southern California, which stretched easily to Tijuana. This volume also investigates the War on Drugs and a “hidden dirty-war” against dissidence and peasants in rural Mexico, a span that ranged from 1965 to 1985. Under the pretext of eradicating drug production by narcocultivadores or narcogrowers, Mexican authorities also launched an offensive against dissident groups interested in readdressing the land issue in rural Mexico, effectively eradicating dissidence, but not drugs. The search for the source of drugs soon involved the CIA-Contra-Drug Trafficking connection from the Mexican perspective. By the early 1980s, The Mexican journalist Manuel Buendía had begun to explore the link between the CIA-Contra-Drug Trafficking Conenction from the Mexican perspective, and he hypothesized that it needed the complicity of corrupt Mexican and law enforcement officials.Read More »

ADHS at AHA 2017

Splash Screen Logo

Earlier this month, thousands of historians descended – or perhaps ascended – upon snowy Denver for the American Historical Association’s annual meeting. (Some attendees took to Twitter to make light of the inclement weather.)

The Alcohol and Drugs History Society was represented in the Mile-High City by three panels: “A Question of Intent: Alcoholic Insanity, Violence, and the Law in 19th-Century America”; “A Vicious Turn in Global History: Fighting Drinks, Drugs, and ‘Immorality,’ c. 1850–1950”; and a roundtable discussion, “Approaching Prohibition’s Centennial: Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State.”

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Fish Stories: The Drug Wars’ Unreliable Narrator

Given the Saturday Evening Post’s homogenous readership in 1926, we can forgive novice journalist Harry J. Anslinger for embroidering this lead into his article, “Tiger of the Sea”: “A moving picture with a South Sea scene is hardly complete unless the native hero, with a long dagger held between his teeth, balances his weight on the edge of a canoe to prepare for a dive to kill the shark that is between him and the precious pearl which he risks his life for to offer to the daughter of the white missionary whose beauty has captivated him.”

The reference to film is unsurprising, given Anslinger’s later fascination with Hollywood and his obsession with celebrity drug use. Students of American drug prohibition might also recognize this sort of dangerous interracial romance as an ever-present theme in Anslinger’s writing. But I want to discuss something more basic about Anslinger and his work: truthfulness.

The cover of the issue in which “Tiger of the Sea” appeared

The article goes on to describe how sharks have gained a mistaken reputation as killers of humans while actually, the vicious barracuda – a quick-moving fish with razors for teeth – is the real “tiger of the sea.” The shark, writes Anslinger, is actually “the scavenger of the sea … usually found hovering near slaughter-house drains. He invariably follows fishing craft homeward bound to gather the fish refuse cast overboard. … He is wary of live bait.” Barracudas are the real perpetrators, he writes, of many supposed attacks by “the innocent shark.”

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Recent Dissertation Abstracts: Substance Use Around the World

Editor’s Note: Periodically the Points blog posts selections from University of Pittsburgh History of Medicine Librarian Jonathon Erlen‘s running bibliography of dissertation titles relevant to our interests. Today’s post surveys some recent work in the varieties of drug experiences and their management in different cultural contexts. Contact Erlen at erlen@pitt.edu. 

Fathering and Substance Use in Northern Uganda: An Ethnographic Study

Author: Mehus, Christopher J.

Abstract: Parents are the most proximal influence in children’s lives and parenting practices can moderate the relationship between risk-laden contexts and child outcomes. The present study is part of a broader project supporting parents in Northern Uganda and adds to the small but growing literature focused on the impact of fathers in children’s lives. In this study, I utilized ethnographic in-depth interviews with 19 fathers, focus groups, informal conversations with community members, and field observations to learnRead More »

Announcing A New Pointscast!

With a new year comes a new episode of Pointscast, the first, best, and only podcast of the Points blog. In this installment: kids on cocaine around the world! Hosts Alex Tepperman and Kyle Bridge discuss early-twentieth century reporting on juvenile drug use and crime in the United States and Soviet Union. Along the way, they introduce several questions pertinent to larger historical debates and curiosities: What was the “Progressive impulse” toward children using drugs? How did U.S. narcotic prohibition affect the global cocaine market and its prevalence elsewhere? And what do cocaine and ice cream have in common, according to one young child? Share your thoughts below or on the Pointscast Twitter or Facebook page and check out other episodes on Soundcloud!

Points Recommends 2016: The Best Media for Anybody Interested in Drug History

Editor’s Note: If you’re anything like me, you’re interested in intoxication and, perhaps ironically, have precious little time for entertainment. So, why not get your fix for both at once? We asked some of our contributing editors what made their best-of lists this year in books, TV, movies, music, and Web content. Not all are explicitly related to substances, but hopefully you find enough media to keep you occupied through the New Year. Points returns from its holiday hiatus on January 3. Enjoy!


Emily Dufton: There’s “Brave New Weed,” a book which claims to be “an adventure into the uncharted world of cannabis,” i.e. the author “traveling around and smoking his brains out,” as reviewer Matt Taibbi puts it. This is one of a wave of new books about pot which emphasizes the fun of the new industry, even as it outlines its pitfalls. I find many of these books a little too celebratory with Jeff Sessions as the potential new attorney general, but it’s always interesting to watch the arsenal grow.

There’s also “Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany,” which looks very good. Written by the German novelist Norman Ohler in his first dip into history, it seems accomplished: well-written, incisive, and able to shed new light on an old topic. Well, old to ADHS historians anyway; we’ve long known about the Nazis interest in uppers.

61ocjfo2zylMichael Durfee: For timely work by a powerful, honest new voice from Baltimore not-named Ta-Nehisi Coates, turn to D. Watkins.  His first work, The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America is a much-needed meditation in a post-Freddie Gray Baltimore.  His second work—more germane to our interests—is entitled the Cookup: A Crack Rock Memoir—a first-person drug trade ethnography explaining what happens when a young man tracked for higher education suffers the loss of his older brother who left behind the kind of accrued wealth one might find in East Baltimore, a “starter kit” to enter the drug game.Read More »

Anti-Narcotics as Social Critique: Earle Albert Rowell’s Crusade


Earle Albert Rowell

We are introduced to David Dare in Experiences of David Dare in Bible Research, a novel written by Earle Albert Rowell in 1933. Dare, presenting a series of lectures on biblical prophecy to a town of agnostics gradually wins over the Emersons, a local family who become convinced by Dare’s lectures and convert to Christianity. Four years later, Dare and the Emersons reappear as a team of anti-narcotics crusaders, saving a wealthy family, the Marvels, from the perils of addiction in Dope Adventures of David Dare.

Dare’s creator, Earle Albert Rowell had written several short books on religion and drugs through this period. One about the opium habit from 1929 Battling the Worlves of Socitey and another about the new scourge of marijuana in his 1939 book, On The Trail of Marihuana. Described by his publishers as a well traveled anti-narcotics crusader, a member of the White Cross International Anti-Narcotics Society. He and his son Robert, Earle’s opium pipe in hand, had criss-crossed the country educating the public about narcotics and writing about his work.Read More »

The Points Interview: Richard Grace

Editor’s Note: Today’s interviewee, Dr. Richard J. Grace, is Professor Emeritus of History at Providence College. His book, Opium and Empire: The Lives and Careers of William Jardine and James Mathseon (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2014; paperback edition, 2015) will soon be available in Chinese from Beijing United Publishing Co.


Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand. And what do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about it?

Opium and Empire explores the lives and careers of two of the most influential British merchants  in East Asia in the first half of the nineteenth century. These Scots, William Jardine (1784-1843) and James Matheson (1796-1878), operated a partnership at Canton (now Guangzhou), trading in various commodities,  and engaging in insurance, shipping, and finance. Their most important commodity was opium, which was illegal in China. For the most part they served as agents for investors far afield, especially in India, by marketing their opium for a fee, to buyers in the Gulf of Canton. The Chinese buyers would smuggle the cargoes of opium ashore, sometimes with the connivance of local government authorities.Read More »

The Points Interview: Michael Lewis

Editor’s Note: Today’s interview is with Dr. Michael Lewis, author of the new book, The Coming of Southern Prohibition (out now from LSU Press). He is an assistant professor of sociology at Christopher Newport University. Contact Dr. Lewis at mlewis@cnu.edu. 


Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Coming of Southern Prohibition is a story about profit from liquor sales- who gets it and how the government sometimes uses morality and fear to make rules to ensure they get more of it. In 1892 South Carolina’s Governor Benjamin Tillman did just that, creating a statewide system of liquor stores that kept all the liquor profits for the state and county government. The subsequent decisions that South Carolina counties made about how many liquor stores they should permit and where these ought to be located were influenced as much by the chances of increasing profit than they were by preventing
alcohol sales to the “riff-raff” of society.

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