Teaching Points: Teaching the “So What?” in “Marijuana in American History”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Seth Blumenthal, a Lecturer at Boston University. Contact the author at sblument@bu.edu.

In 1994, the president of the Modern Language Association, Patricia Meyers Spacks, outlined the need to consider “So what?” in higher education. “We get a bad press these days … many believe that we too often devote our efforts to enterprises mattering only to ourselves,” Spacks warned.  “Our research and writing, these critics appear convinced, possess even less value than our teaching. ‘So what?’ echoes loudly around us.”[1] Spacks then suggested a solution:  “We must answer ‘So what?’ as a real rather than a rhetorical question.”  This battle cry to co-opt the critics’ “So what?” applies to disciplines across the humanities that have suffered from a shift toward more focused and vocational training in college. Specifically, while making historical narratives compelling and relevant has always motivated historians’ research and teaching, this cause has become even more urgent with on-going decreases in student enrollment in history courses.

As a lecturer in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences writing program, I have attempted to answer this call by teaching the first history course dedicated to cannabis in the United States, “Marijuana in American History.” This course attracts students from a wide array of fields in fulfillment of BU’s required two-semester writing and research sequence. For many students, especially those from disciplines outside of the humanities, taking a course that revolves around writing papers represents a trip to a foreign land. Thus, students’ dismissal of history writing as an arcane and niche enterprise reflects a wider protest that asks “So what?” in its most derisive context, analogous to its evil twin, “Who cares?” In 2007, 2.24 percent of college graduates majored in history, but only 2.02 percent in 2011.[2]  In response, historians have initiated an emphasis on a new pedagogical approach to authentic historical problems or controversies that more accurately reflect the profession’s self-directed historical inquiry to establish an argument’s significance—the “so what?”

In my own teaching, making history relevant is a two pronged strategy. First, the subject, marijuana, is a popular topic that many students (mostly male) are curious about for a variety of reasons (some better than others). This course follows three eras of marijuana politics. First we cover the major controversies surrounding the Anslingerian prohibition years in the 1930s; next, we examine the war on drugs that began in the 1960s; and finally, we research the legalization era that began in the 1990s.  The topic obviously provides a rich cultural history with a dizzying array of sources that engage students but also consider marijuana’s symbolic and political significance. For example, while reliable entertainment, comparing Reefer Madness, Easy Rider, Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke and Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High provides a fascinating window into Americans’ shifting sentiments about pot and the stoner from the 1930s to the 1980s. While the first two papers ask students to argue about the historical trends in marijuana culture, science and politics, the final assignment embraces the topic’s current controversy and asks students to develop an argument about the reason for the recent growing support for legalization. This assignment gives students free reign to choose their topics, as they write about issues such as marijuana culture and research in social media, women’s roles in the effort, the motivation for racial justice and of course the medicinal movement.

Second, this class shows history as controversy with contemporary implications rather than a list of dates and names. Students analyze political texts such as congressional testimony and Richard Nixon’s tapes to explore the complicated messages and cultural assumptions that informed our policies on drugs. Practicing these historical skills, students quickly learn that as soon as they can formulate a thesis, the “so what?” should also be included.  Why does it matter if we scapegoat the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger, for passing the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937? What lessons should we learn from following the rise and fall of the gateway theory? What does millennials’ overwhelming support for legalization say about this generation? All of these questions push students to make the connections between their scholarly argument and its current implications. Beyond the academic pursuit of marijuana history’s larger significance, my students can feel the topic’s controversy outside the classroom.

Soon, the class picked up wider publicity and critics predictably asked why something like this should pass as “college material.” One response to an article USA Today ran on “Marijuana in American History” expressed the abhorrence that many parents shared. “As a parent of a prospective student: STRIKE 1” read one typical reaction.  “This is not something we are looking for in a future college.” As a new hire, I began to question my decision to offer the course. After checking with BU’s public relations office, however, I quickly realized that the positives greatly outweighed the negatives and they reassured me of the university’s support.  In addition, students in my class found the controversy over their course flattering. One even expressed that she felt she was actually a part of history, while another engineering student reflected in his course portfolio, “At this time I think I have far greater perspective on the marijuana issue, but really what I think I got out of this course was a greater appreciation for how the whole ‘liberal arts college’[humanities?] thing can teach you how to think about issues.”  In his paper, he argued that courses like “Marijuana in American History” are necessary, asking: “if marijuana has been legitimized in business, medicine and in politics-why not in academics?”—essentially developing a “so what?” that answered many critics who wondered “who cares”? (Or as one person protested: “And this course will prepare the student to do something?”). Despite the current hostility to the humanities, or perhaps because of it, the history of marijuana is a new and exciting field that can expand undergraduates’ notions of history’s role in changing perceptions of drugs and alcohol in society.

[1] Patricia Meyers Spacks, “Presidential Address 1994: Reality-Our Subject and Discipline,” PMLA, 110 (May, 1995), 350-357.

[2]Robert Townshend, “Data Shows a Decline in History Majors,” Perspectives, 51 (April, 2013); Mills Kelly, “A Looming Disaster for History,” April 12, 2013, edwired ; http://edwired.org/2013/04/12/a-looming-disaster-for-history/.

 

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The Strange and Complicated Future of the E-Cigarette Industry

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Camille Wilson, a patent attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, with extensive experience researching e-cigarettes. Enjoy!

Last January, in 2015, I[1] wrote about the patent evolution of e-cigarettes up until that point. I also made some general predictions about the e-cigarette industry, mostly favoring Big Tobacco. Only a short twenty months later, the entire landscape is about to change…and it will most likely favor Big Tobacco, in one way or another.

But why the shift?

In May 2016, the FDA finalized a rule (a very dense 134 page rule, to be exact) extending their regulatory power established by the Tobacco Control Act in 2007 to cover all tobacco products, which now includes e-cigarettes. That rule officially went into effect on August 8, 2016, starting the clock for the entire industry to disprove that their products are “not appropriate for the protection of public health.” (“Deeming Tobacco Products To Be Subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act”, as Amended by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act; Restrictions on the Sale and Distribution of Tobacco Products and Required Warning Statements for Tobacco Products, 81 Fed. Reg. 28975, May 10, 2016) (Amending 21 C.F.R. §§ 1100, 1140, and 1143). I use the term “disprove” because the entire rule seems to presume that all e-cigarette products do not protect public health; so, the onus is placed on the manufacturers to prove otherwise.

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The German Museum of Pharmacy: A Historiographic Time Capsule

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. This summer she visited the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum in Munich and has provided us with a review of its collections. All photos are courtesy of her as well. Enjoy!

During a two-month sojourn in Germany this summer, I eagerly anticipated a visit to Munich’s famed Beer and Octoberfest Museum—in the name of “research,” naturally. Less renowned than this hotspot and its many sister institutions, but equally relevant to historians of intoxicants, is the country’s sole attempt to reconstruct its pharmaceutical history: the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum (hereafter referred to as DAM), located since 1958 in the breathtaking Heidelberg Castle.

exterior of DAM
The exterior of the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum

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Conference Summary: “I’ve Been to Dwight,” July 14-18, 2016, Dwight, IL

Editor’s Note: This conference summary is brought to you by David Korostyshevsky, a doctoral student in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. He traveled to Dwight, Illinois, in mid-July to attend the ADHS off-year “I’ve Been to Dwight” conference, and has provided this account of his time there. Thanks David!

On July 14-18, 2016, a group of international alcohol and drug historians descended upon the village of Dwight, Illinois, for an ADHS off-year conference. Conference organizers selected Dwight because 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Keeley Institute.

Founded by Leslie E. Keeley in 1879 (and operating until 1966), the Keeley Institute offered treatment options to patients with addiction, usually alcoholism, including Keeley’s Gold Cure. “I’ve Been to Dwight,” the conference title, references “a catchphrase” former Keeley Institute patients “used to explain their sobriety.”

Keeley

To make it easier to read, this summary is organized thematically. You can see the full conference program here.

I live-tweeted the conference as @rndmhistorian under the hashtag #IBTD16. Also, Janet Olson, volunteer archivist at the Frances Willard Historical Association wrote a blog post about the conference.

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Teaching Points: “The History of Drugs in Twentieth-Century America”

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Marco Ramos and Tess Lanzarotta. Ramos is an MD/Ph.D. candidate in the History of Science and Medicine program at Yale University focusing on the production and circulation of scientific knowledge during the Cold War in the global south. Lanzarotta is a Ph.D. candidate in the same department focusing on the ways that contemporary interactions between biomedical researchers and indigenous populations are shaped by their historical antecedents. This summer, Ramos and Lanzarotta taught a course on the history of drugs in the twentieth century and we’ve invited them to contribute to our “Teaching Points” series. Enjoy! 

Over the course of five weeks this summer, we co-taught a course on “The History of Drugs in Twentieth-Century America.” As discussed in our earlier post, we decided to focus the course around historical processes of drug categorization, rather than on a single drug or class of drugs. We hoped that this approach would draw undergraduate students’ attention to the ways that systems of drug classification are and have been shaped by their historical contexts. In particular, we felt it was crucial to emphasize the ways that drug categories affect and are affected by the people who use and regulate drugs.

Part of the impetus for the course was our own sense that historical analysis makes a particularly useful tool for understanding contemporary dilemmas surrounding drug use and drug policy. Bearing that in mind, we structured our classroom discussions and course assignments to encourage students to draw lessons from the past and bring them to bear on the present. The class was a seminar format with sessions running for three hours, twice each week; we tried to break up this rather long classroom time by delivering short lectures, showing documentaries and television episodes, visiting the Yale Medical Historical Library and Yale Art Gallery, and by bringing in guest speakers who could share their perspectives and expertise.

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The State of the Art: The Malcolms’ Examination of Straight, Incorporated, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series from Marcus Chatfield, a regular contributor to Points. Here he continues his examination of Straight, Inc., the controversial adolescent drug treatment program that existed from 1976 to 1993. 

There is no way to account for the discrepancies or misconceptions reflected in the Malcolms’ report. It’s possible that they were ill-informed and the group was given special instructions to behave differently during their visit. They may have had some vested interest in writing a favorable report, but the simplest explanation might come from Dr. Malcolm himself.

In his book, The Case Against the Drugged Mind (1973), he argues that society is in decline because of drugs and alcohol and he acknowledges his lack of composure concerning our future:

I am one student of the subject who does not contemplate the future of the chemophilic society with the same degree of composure as many of my colleagues do. In fact, as the reader will soon note, I am quite unable to appreciate the general rejoicing that seems to attend the observation that we have at last become restrained and civilized about drugs (from the preface).

He seems to have considered all of Western Civilization to be a chemophilic society unraveling because of its illicit cravings, like a compulsive drug user, bent towards self-destruction:

The chemophilic society tends to do the same thing: it compulsively swallows, inserts sniffs and injects its miraculous drugs. Finally this pattern, exactly as in the case of the alcoholic tends to become inappropriate. The many alternatives to intoxication are simply ignored (p. 4).

Like an intervention with a self-harming family member, because the disease is progressive and terminal, our society will need to be rescued – before we can be certain about the cure – we will have to take some risks in order to save humanity:

It is apparent, moreover, that as a consequence of this our society is suffering from progressively more serious psychological and physical distress. We are, in fact very likely at a point in time at which some crucial decisions must be made. And some of these decisions will have to be made without the benefit of all the facts. Our sickness is real enough and we are not likely to recover from it spontaneously (p. 4).

The report doesn’t give any information about Barbara Malcolm, B.A., but considering Dr. Malcolm’s areas of expertise and his convictions, he might have been the perfect person to explain Straight’s methods in a favorable light. But knowing the uniform consistency across the Straight franchise throughout its operation (along with the fact that the Malcolms’ research was conducted during the infamous “Miller Newton years” at Saint Petersburg), it’s difficult to understand how their conclusion – “Straight simply does not engage in brainwashing” – could have been so conclusive and so completely contrary to other expert assessments.

Arnold TrebachDr. Barry Beyerstein and Dr. Bruce Alexander, also Canadian addictions experts, first heard about Straight from American University professor Dr. Arnold Trebach, who is probably the first academician to publish a behind-the-scenes account of the methods used in Straight’s facilities.

In his book The Great Drug War (1987), Trebach devoted an entire chapter to Straight, detailing the story of Fred Collins: his bizarre abduction, the methods of “brainwashing” he witnessed, and his successful lawsuit against the program. While writing about Collins’ experience, Dr. Trebach sent a preliminary draft to Professor Beyerstein, Department of Psychology at Simon Fraser University. Beyerstein responded by comparing Straight’s techniques to those of the Chinese Communists that were used upon United Nations prisoners of war during the Korean War. “The parallels with Straight’s methods are striking,” Beyerstein said.

The Chinese used techniques that Straight seems to have lifted wholesale. It seemed to me as I read your account that someone at Straight had read the literature on brainwashing and systematically set out to apply it (Trebach, 1987, p. 43).

In 1990, Dr. Beyerstein and his colleague Dr. Bruce Alexander were able visit Straight’s Springfield, Virginia facility, observing their methods first-hand. Later that same year, Alexander summed up his observations of Straight in his book, Peaceful Measures: “I believe that Straight’s treatment can be fairly compared with ‘brainwashing’ in prisoner-of-war camps as documented by Brown (1963, chap. 2)” (p. 75). Then he mentions that Straight’s executives had provided him with the Malcolms’ report (along with the Friedman study) as proof that their methods were effective.

Beyerstein noted:

In effect, our hosts at Straight Inc. argued not that their means were so very different from what critics had alleged, but that their noble ends (saving the nation’s children!) justified such harsh and underhanded manipulations. They excused their tactics on the grounds that the dangers of drugs, especially for youth, are so overwhelming that practices normally forbidden in democracies must be permitted in the all-out battle for survival (p. 246).

In 1992, Dr. Beyerstein published a lengthy analysis comparing Straight’s methods to “brainwashing,” referring to the work of Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, Dr. Edgar Schein and cult expert, Dr. Susan Andersen. (The Malcolms referred to their own expertise and to Dr. Malcolm’s own personal criteria, found in The Tyranny of the Group, for their assessment.)

Check back next week for Part 3. Chatfield’s series will run every Thursday. 

The State of the Art: The Malcolms’ Examination of Straight, Incorporated, Part 1

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series from Marcus Chatfield, a regular contributor to Points. Here he continues his examination of Straight, Inc., the controversial adolescent drug treatment program that existed from 1976 to 1993. 

In 2011, I obtained a 31-page report, entitled, An Examination of Straight Incorporated (1981, unpublished), from the Carlton Turner collection in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Archives. Written by Canadian psychiatrist, Dr. Andrew I. Malcolm, and his wife Barbara, their favorable assessment of Straight’s controversial methods was an important endorsement during the early stages of Straight’s national expansion.

Screenshot 2016-06-30 09.35.42
Dr. Andrew I. Malcolm

Along with the Malcolms’ report, I obtained several correspondences between Straight executives and White House officials, describing preparations for Straight’s national expansion and some of their efforts to promote the program in the midst of widespread criticism. One of the reasons Straight was able to franchise its operations across the United States, while simultaneously fighting a growing reputation for abuse, is that the program’s public image was constantly nurtured by White House endorsements during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Straight’s directors invited the Malcolms’ examination because “it was likely” they would “submit an objective and unbiased report and that Straight, as a result, might benefit from [their] observations” (p. 1). The Malcolms’ expertise in drug use, their knowledge of cults, and their lack of involvement with Straight lent authenticity to their endorsement, which was presented to potential donors in a promotional package. Straight’s directors developed this “Solicitation Presentation” (p. 17-18) hoping to raise 18.2 million dollars (p. 16) for the construction of 26 new facilities over a five-year period – 1982 to 1986. “We suspect that money is going to be forthcoming, from diverse sources, for a programme as enlightened and as nationally necessary as is that of Straight,” the Malcolms proclaimed in their endorsement letter (p. 36-37).

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Online Video Resources for Alcohol, Drug, and Addiction History

Talks from Addictions Old and New (October 22-23, 2017) and the National History Center Congressional Briefing on the History of Drug Policy and Addiction (May 9, 2016) are available online. The videos include PowerPoint slides, enlarged and edited for clarity, and follow-up questions.

Addictions Old and New, which Kyle Bridge first reported in an October 27, 2015 Points story, brought together scholars from different disciplines to discuss traditional and emerging patterns of addictive behavior. The videos feature neuroscientist Chuck O’Brien, historian David Courtwright, historian Virginia Berridge, historian David Herzberg, addiction medicine specialist Andrew Kolodny, cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll, social worker and sex-addiction expert Robert Weiss, behavioral pharmacologist and tobacco expert Robert Balster, policy analyst Mark Kleiman, and historian David Leary.

Screenshot 2016-06-23 09.54.13

Cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll was among the featured speakers at Addictions Old and New. She spoke on Addiction by Design: From Slot Machines to Candy Crush.

Screenshot 2016-06-23 09.56.03

Moderator Alan Kraut (left) kicked off the National History Center Congressional Briefing on the History of Drug Policy and Addiction, which featured an overview of U.S. drug-policy history by David Courtwright and an analysis of the origins of the opioid epidemic by Keith Wailoo (right). Historian Dane Kennedy summarized and commented on the presentations.

 

Religion and Anti-Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Brendan Payne, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at Baylor University finishing his dissertation, “Cup of Salvation: Race, Religion, and (Anti-)Prohibition in Texas, 1885-1935.” Enjoy!

Jews and BoozeWhen I tell people that my dissertation addresses religion and alcohol prohibition, many recall stories of relatives involved in the noble experiment. Almost invariably, those who make a point of their ancestors’ religiosity recount how they joined the crusade for prohibition, such as a grandmother who led a chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union or a minister who railed against demon rum, while those who mention their grandfather’s bootlegging have little to comment on his piety. The implicit assumption – that religion inspired only prohibition’s backers and not its opponents – may be too blunt for most scholars to state plainly, though this assumption casts a significant shadow over much of prohibition scholarship. Only a few books, such as Marni Davis’s Jews and Booze, deal in-depth with an overwhelmingly wet religious minority, though even that work is more interested in the tremendously important questions of ethnicity and American identity than in religion as such. Too many academic works on prohibition that address religion either focus almost exclusively on drys or oversimplify the connection between faith and prohibition, with (for example) Catholics always being wet and Baptists invariably dry.

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Special Issue: Intoxication, New American Notes Online

Two of our favorite contributors at Points, Dr. Ingrid Walker and Alexine Fleck, have recently co-edited a special issue of NANO, New American Notes Online, a publication of the New York City College of Technology. The issue, released last month, deals with the theme of intoxication, and features articles from our assistant managing editor Kyle Bridge and contributor Michelle McClellan. There’s also a great interview with Craig Reinarman and a discussion if sugar is actually a drug.

You can check the issue out here, and we hope that you enjoy it as much as these Washington state grandmothers enjoyed smoking pot for the first time!

Intoxication