Parallel to the Grain? Finding Recreational Users in the Archives

For cultural historians looking into the history of drugs, one of the more frustrating obstacles to our work comes from trying to find “the people,” those who used the drugs we are studying. In studies of more recent times, scholars are able to locate individuals, interviewing them about their experiences. But for someone who studies the history of cannabis in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the archives are understandably lacking in user voices. In working through this problem, I’ve begun to problematize our conception of drug user. I’d like to share my thoughts and to perhaps get a discussion going in the comments section below.

A drug user, according to Wikipedia.

A drug user, according to Wikipedia.

Who uses drugs? A simple Google search of “drug users” yields a sponsored link for Unity Recovery Center, a rehab chain based in Florida. The next four results link to an assortment of informational websites on drug abuse and addiction. Finally, after the image results that, not surprisingly, feature “the faces of meth,” our search takes us to the Wikipedia article “Drug User” which defines the user as “a person who uses drugs either legally or illegally. A drug user may or may not also be a drug abuser, and may or may not have one or more drug addictions.”

Implicit in this definition is the assumption that drug users are only those folks that smoke, sniff, ingest, shoot, or otherwise consume a substance into their bodies. This is confirmed by the image that accompanies the article. Continue reading

A Report from the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Society

Editor’s Note: Today contributing editor Bob Beach reports on several drug-related panels at this year’s annual meeting of the AHA, which took place in New York on January 2-5, 2015.

This year, the American Historical Society’s annual meeting was held in Times Square in New York City. Among the 1,500 presenters, a refreshing batch of young drug and alcohol historians (and some veterans) presented their research on addiction, addiction treatment, and the long drug war.

Calling all drug and alcohol historians

Calling all drug and alcohol historians

The historical significance of this time and place was not lost on your correspondent in his first foray into the world of the AHA annual meeting. Eric Schneider reminded us on the first day of the conference that the 100 year anniversary of the Harrison Act was coming into force. The law launched the national drug war in the United States and was, in many ways, on the minds of all of “our” presenters at the conference. Continue reading

Breast or Bottle: La Leche League and Alcoholics Anonymous as Lay Health Movements

Editor’s Note: This post is from Contributing Editor Michelle McClellan.

I’ll begin with two anecdotes, the first of which is probably familiar to most Points readers. In 1935, a stockbroker named Bill Wilson found himself in Akron, Ohio for a business deal. When it fell through and Wilson felt the urge to drink again after a period of sobriety, he reached out through area ministers and was put in touch with a woman who arranged a conversation between him and Dr. Robert Smith, a local physician who also struggled with his drinking. Their conversation is now recognized as the genesis moment of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

bill wilson

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In Memoriam: Joseph R. Gusfield (1923-2015)

gusfield

Joseph R. Gusfield (6 Sept 1923 – 5 Jan 2015)

Joseph R. Gusfield, a historical sociologist and leader in transforming the study of alcohol use in the United States, passed away on January 5, 2015, at the age of 91.

His seminal works include Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement (1963) and The Culture of Public Problems: Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order (1981).

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It’s a “New Year, New You”

I spent the holiday break at various parents’ houses, moving back and forth between my husband’s parents’ home in New Jersey and where my father and stepmother live in Pennsylvania. During my sojourn in suburbia, I also had the chance to read a lot of magazines – isn’t it great when all of the cooking and cleaning is done by others? – which included several years’ worth of Runner’s Worlds that live in my parents-in-law’s basement.

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Best of 2014: Media Recommendations for Alcohol and Drugs Historians

EDITOR’S NOTE: Need a last-minute gift for your favorite alcohol and drugs historian? Or something to do on your winter break? Have no fear! Points editors have tons of suggestions for books, movies, TV shows, music and digital distractions. Read on for a breakdown of some of the best alcohol-and-drugs-related media we’ve consumed this year.

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Drugs, Demons, and Fiends: “I Can’t Breathe” (Guest Post)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is by Suzanna Reiss, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Hawai’i and author of the recently published book, We Sell Drugs: The Alchemy of US Empire (University of California Press, 2014). Reiss offers a timely meditation on the legacy of the Harrison Narcotics Act, which turned one hundred yesterday. 

As we confront the hundredth anniversary of the passage of the first US federal drug control law, it is difficult not to be haunted by current events. What is happening today in contemporary policing reflects the legacies produced by drug control and its origins in the deep racial animosities and inequities that contributed to the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914. This centennial commemoration should provoke national soul-searching about the drug war’s contribution to racialized policing and its ties to economic inequality in American society. It certainly is not cause for celebration.

Listen to two accounts – separated by a hundred years, sharing too much.

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Recovery 101: Some Observations From Student AA

For most college students, the consequences of heavy drinking are limited to killer hangovers. In extreme cases, students may find themselves dealing with medical or police personnel from driving under the influence, alcohol poisoning, or sexual or other violent assault. (For more information on the last point, see Michelle McClellan’s astute post from earlier this week.) But some become addicted to alcohol, increasing the likelihood of all these problems and exacerbated by the ubiquity of drinking in much of college life.

The night is young (Image: Wikipedia)

I had the chance to undertake ethnographic work for an anthropology course this semester. I began observing conventional community-based AA meetings, but my network of contacts eventually pointed me to an on-campus student chapter. The group was utterly fascinating, not least because of young adults’ relative under-representation in the national organization; just over half (51%) of AA members are between the ages of 41 and 60, while the average age in the student group was no higher than 25 (only 13% of overall members are under 30).

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Beyond “Damp Feminism”: Thoughts on the UVa Rape Scandal and Campus Drinking Trends

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is written by Points contributing editor Michelle McClellan.

Like many others, I read the story in Rolling Stone magazine about a gang rape at the University of Virginia with a sense of mounting horror. Then, when I began to hear hints and then assertions that the victim’s story might not hold up, I felt angry and confused—for a lot of reasons. The fallout from this story and its aftermath has been extensive, and will likely change again before you read these words. The cover page of the December 5, 2014 Chronicle of Higher Education includes the headline “UVa Rocked by Account of Rape” but that is overshadowed on the page by a photo of recycling bins heaped high with Bud Light cans to illustrate a special report called “Alcohol’s Hold on Campus.” How, if at all, do these stories go together?

 

The Rolling Stone story

The Rolling Stone story

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