Editor’s Note: The newest issue of the Alcohol and Drug History Society’s journal, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, or SHAD, is a special edition, joined with the journal Contemporary Drug Problems. It focuses specifically on gender and critical drug studies. Two of SHAD’s newest co-editors, Nancy Campbell and David Herzberg, provide an introduction to the issue here, and over the next few weeks we’re going to feature some of the issue’s authors giving insights into their work. Enjoy!
The 2000 film “Traffic” is harshly critical of American drug policy as ineffective, corrupt, and cruel. Among the many stories it traces is the ascent of DEA chief Robert Wakefield (played by Michael Douglas) to the position of Drug Czar. Just as Wakefield reaches the apex of his career as an anti-drug warrior, his daughter Caroline descends from recreational drug use into “hard core” heroin addiction.
Caroline, blonde and so white as to be almost luminescent, begins with casual drug use with other white friends in upscale settings. As her use becomes more serious, the movie follows her to meaner streets and more diverse companions. When she finally fully succumbs to addiction, she has become a sex worker in an African American neighborhood in the employ of a young, heavily muscled, dark-skinned dealer.
We all immediately recognize these embarrassing racial stereotypes—that’s why they so efficiently signal Caroline’s decline. And thanks to a wealth of vibrant scholarship that has revealed the racial dynamics of American drug policies, we are likely to be enraged by the calculated conflation of addiction, degradation, and blackness in a supposedly rebellious film. Shouldn’t Steven Soderbergh (the director) know better? But racialized tropes are so deeply built into drug-war culture that their absence would be surprising even in a critical vehicle like “Traffic.”
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Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. Brooks is joining Points as a contributing editor for the 2018-2019 year, so look for more posts from him to come. Enjoy!
Historians change their language for all sorts of reasons, specifically when it dehumanizes other people. The humanities have abandoned pejorative and race-based terms, whether it’s “negro,” “colored,” or “oriental.” We understand these terms are powerful and demean others. Similarly, individuals with disabilities no longer face the indignity of having their medical condition be synonymous with who they are as people. Within the last century, we discarded “mentally retarded,” “lunatic,” “imbecile” and “feeble-minded.” Now, we use first-person language, for example, “a person with a mental or physical disability.” Within my lifetime, it’s gone from acceptable to unacceptable to use homophobic language to paint the LGBTQ community as “deviant” or prone to “unnatural desires.” Only in the last five years have mental health professionals acknowledged this mistake and declared that transgender individuals do not suffer from mental illness (“gender identity disorder”). This revision is from the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Progress has stalled when it comes to another health issue, however: “drug addiction.” Interestingly, another revision in the DSM-5 was taking out “addiction”—partially because of its “uncertain definition”—and replacing it with substance use disorder. Adoption of this change is underway, but not too many historians are breaking down barricades to enter the debate.
There are a thousand reason to reject “addiction.” It is imprecise. It is laden with value judgements. It is embedded in a history of religious rhetoric. It cannot be separated from largely fact-free government propaganda campaigns, not to mention the newspapers archives that are filled with word, usually within graphic and hysterical accounts that have little basis in reality.
Few have adequately addressed this issue. Fewer have proposed ways to resolve it. Arguably, the closest attempt might be Bruce Alexander’s Globalization of Addiction. In it, he dedicates an entire chapter to disentangling the various meanings of the word, marking distinct usage by subscript—admittedly, a distracting strategy, though one that reduces misinterpretation.
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Editor’s Note: This post was written by Dr. Chris Elcock, an adjunct professor at the Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 in Lyon, France, whom you might remember from his article on the early years of cannabis activism published last month. Today he discusses the use of LSD in New York City in the 1960s and its effect on the city’s culture. Enjoy!
Eight years ago I developed a keen interest in the social history of psychedelic drug use and ended up starting a PhD thesis on the history of LSD use in New York City. I based my project on the premises that New York had been somewhat ignored in the scholarship and in the popular mind. When you think of LSD, you think of the West Coast in the 1960s and its colorful Haight-Ashbury scene. San Francisco certainly had a long tradition of tolerance toward Bohemians and eccentrics and it seemed quite natural that such a psychedelic scene should have blossomed there. But what about the Big Apple? As one the most influential metropolises in the entire world, surely the use of mind-altering drugs would have led to the development of a very complex scene indeed.
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The Science History Institute, formed by the merger of the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Life Sciences Foundation, is a fantastic resource for those interested in researching the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences – topics that are necessary if we’re to understand the role that intoxicants have played in our lives.
Located in Philadelphia with outposts in Europe and California, the Science History Institute has an archive and library, an acclaimed museum, and a variety of fellowship programs that are definitely worth a look.
Through Distillations, their outlet for podcasts, a magazine, videos and blogs, the organization is also a publishing powerhouse. Check out their remarkable longform story on opioids, and subscribe to their podcast. The Institute is launching a new series on the history of addiction treatment, including The Narcotic Farm, Therapeutic Communities like Synanon, methadone maintenance, and buprenorphine/Suboxone. It’s definitely worth a listen.
One more thing: As we mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of excitement around here. Points and the ADHS’s journal, the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, are both working hard to increase and improve our reach over the next few years, with the assistance of the University of Chicago Press.
But we need your help.
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Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in our new Hidden Figures of Drug History series, with more to come in the future. Next week Points will feature more exciting news about drug and alcohol history in the media, as well as a great recap of LSD use in New York City in the 1960s. Enjoy this post and come back next week for more!
There are few subjects I like writing about more than the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse’s 1972 report, “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding.” Also known as the Shafer Commission, the group’s report enlivened my book Grass Roots, and I’ve continued to mine it for material on how we can understand the Trump administration’s response to the opioid overdose epidemic today.
But there’s something of particular interest for those who want to understand the role gender has long played in American drug history within this report as well. And that’s a name that appears within the list of the commission’s thirteen members, nine of whom were appointed by President Richard Nixon, and four of whom were senators and members of Congress.
And that name is Mrs. Joan Ganz Cooney.
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Editor’s Note: As a working mother of an active toddler, I don’t have a lot of time to keep up with popular culture. But a few months ago my husband and I finally watched Hidden Figures. The movie is well done, and it got me thinking. First of all, is there anything Janelle Monae can’t do? And second, what if we applied this same idea – revealing the hidden and important roles of women – to our own field of drug and alcohol history?
And voila – Hidden Figures of Drug History was born. Today’s post is the first installment, in which we discuss Lenore Kandel, a too-often ignored leader of the counterculture and Beat movements. Enjoy!
“When a society is afraid of its poets, it is afraid of itself. A society afraid of itself stands as another definition of hell.” – Lenore Kandel
Kandel, who died in San Francisco in 2009 at the age of 77 from complications of lung cancer, was an uncommon woman in both the Beat and hippie countercultures. A peer and a participant rather than a girlfriend or a muse, Kandel was one of the strongest, most poetic, and perhaps the most frankly sexual voice of the female experience of San Francisco in the 1960s. Though she published only two books of poetry during her lifetime and was virtually unheard of for nearly thirty years preceding her death, her small body of work attracted both critical and popular acclaim, as well as wide-ranging legal ramifications. Nonetheless, a thorough understanding of the artistic movement of the 1960s is simply incomplete without considering her poetic, political, and psychedelic contributions. Lenore Kandel was a pioneer, challenging conventions in the realms of female artistry, literature, and the fight against censorship. The countercultural canon is incomplete without her.
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Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted and written by Lucas Richert, Chancellor’s Fellow in Health History at Strathclyde and co-editor in chief of Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. Enjoy!
Stephanie Schmitz is the Betsy Gordon Archivist for Psychoactive Substances Research at the Purdue University Archives & Special Collections, where she is responsible for building collections pertaining to psychedelic research, and ensuring that these materials are discoverable and accessible in perpetuity.
The conversation took place on June 8, 2018. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Stephanie and I sat down to talk in the Purdue Memorial Union’s coffee shop early on a Friday morning and immediately realized we couldn’t stay. There was far too much activity. It was incredibly loud. “I know another spot,” she told me.
Five minutes later, we found ourselves in an adjacent building. Stephanie was sipping coffee, as was I. We were set. Except not. A speaker on the floor beside us unexpectedly started up and the Kongos’ song “Come with me now” boomed. So we swiftly collected our belongings and moved across the room to a quieter table.
“Alright,” Stephanie laughed. “Now I can think.”
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