The Role of Drug History in Interdisciplinary Study

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Leanne Horinko, the interim director of the office of graduate admissions at Drew University’s Casperson School of Graduate Studies. Enjoy!

As academic history continues to expand, incorporating interdisciplinarity and meeting the needs of public history, areas of history previously overlooked by scholars are becoming new spaces for exploration. Counter-cultural history is no exception. Scholarly inquiry of these new interdisciplinary subjects can lead to interesting challenges in understanding the subject matter without sacrificing academic rigor. Those interested in contributing original research to interdisciplinary fields like counter-cultural history or alcohol and drug history can find themselves neck deep in historiography from multiple fields and trying to piece together a framework for their work. These challenges are perhaps best illustrated in my own research.

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Harry Gene Levine: Joseph R. Gusfield and the Multiple Perspectives of Cubist Sociology

Note from Ron:  Here is another tribute to the late Joe Gusfield, authored by Harry Gene Levine.  It circulated via email among some of us old-guard alcohol and drug history types a few days ago.  And, when I asked him, Harry was kind enough grant permission it be published at Points. The italicized first paragraph, below the Picasso image, offers Harry’s suggested introductory words for the piece.  I’m also going to take the liberty of adding, as a comment, below, my response to it when it was sent around by email.  I really like this piece.  Thank you, Harry!

Picasso's Guernica
Picasso’s Guernica

In 2000 I was invited to join a panel at the meetings of the Law and Society Association devoted to Joe Gusfield and his book Symbolic Crusade.  I wrote a four page presentation, only slightly tongue-in-cheek.  Since hearing of his death I have been thinking about him a lot and dug up the paper. It’s kind of sweet.    — H.G.L.

Joseph R. Gusfield’s book, Symbolic Crusade, discusses the temperance movement in America history. I too have studied the American temperance movement and would like to begin with a brief description of the temperance and prohibition crusade that I didn’t write but wish I could have: the first paragraph of Symbolic Crusade.

For many observers of American life, the temperance movement is evidence for an excessive moral perfectionism and an overly legalistic bent to American culture. It seems the action of devoted sectarians who are unable to compromise with human impulse. The legal measures taken to enforce abstinence display the reputed American faith in the power of Law to correct all evils. This moralism and utopianism bring smiles to the cynical and fear to the sinner. Such a movement seems at once naive, intolerant, saintly and silly.

One of the difficulties of writing like that is that it involves discussing so many things at one time. Every sentence in that paragraph talks about the American temperance movement, and about topics other than the temperance movement. I propose that double or triple focus is part of Gusfield’s intellectual genius. For many years I could not even recognize that Joe was focusing on several things at once. I myself am often unable to see even one thing at a time. At first I usually only see part of one thing. Then, like Columbo, the rumpled detective played by Peter Falk, I return scratching my head, thumbing through my notes, and asking again about something that still confuses me.

I’ve been reading Gusfield’s books and articles for twenty-five years trying to understand how he produces his distinctive intellectual, emotional and perceptual effects on the page and in the reader. I would like to report a few things I have figured out about Joseph R. Gusfield’s sociology.    Read More »

“This Is Your Brain on Drugs”: Teaching Drug History

About midway through the semester last fall my department asked me if I wanted to teach my own course in the spring. My dissertation was basically complete and, since I wasn’t going on the academic job market this year, I felt that I had the time to dedicate to what I knew would be a fairly demanding task.

Prepare to Learn(Be prepared. Be very prepared.)

I also knew what I wanted to teach. After writing a 450-page dissertation on the shifting nature of marijuana laws in the 1970s and ‘80s and the role that social activism played in catalyzing these changes, I knew that I wanted to teach a course about the history of drug use and anti-drug activism in the United States – the good, the bad, and the ugly of all of it.

There’s not a lot of guidance out there on how to teach this material. There are endless websites, articles and programs on teaching children and young adults how to avoid drug use, detailing the dangers and pitfalls of addiction, but there are very few unbiased, historical resources that talk about the nature of American drug laws or the influence of drug use and anti-drug activism on our culture. For the most part, discussions of drug use and the ongoing drug war are relegated to criminal justice programs or are taught by the few dedicated drug historians who have made this subject an integral part of their careers. This meant I was pretty much going it alone, piecing together a syllabus with what I hoped would be sufficient depth and scope from the materials I had come across in my own research, or those I had noticed and appreciated in the past.

The novelty of starting afresh was thrilling. Basically, I had no rules, no “pedagogical methodology” of which to speak. I wanted only to present the most informative, widest-ranging survey of American drug history possible, with cultural resources like films, music, and even museum exhibits added to the mix. Being located in Washington, D.C., was particularly helpful since I could send my students to the DEA museum for their final paper’s critique, and since I was teaching in the American Studies department, they naturally expected the course to be interdisciplinary. We would read chapters from Martin Torgoff’s Can’t Find My Way Home, articles on marijuana legalization from the New Yorker, and watch films like Dazed and Confused or Winter’s Bone, often all in the same week. My students had a great time. So did I.

But what was particularly telling was how recent, and therefore how insufficiently understood, much of our modern history about drug use is. The early years are fairly simple: opiate abuse in the nineteenth century, the effects of Progressivism on pharmaceutical sales, the Anslinger era and hippies and Nixon. The story followed a common theme: Americans would use a drug, often in vast numbers. This drug use would then become problematic. Increased anti-drug enforcement would result. QED.

We took David Musto’s theory as our guide. Musto, the Yale historian who died in 2010, had argued as early as 1973 that American drug use occurred in cycles, and that the pendulum of public thought was constantly swinging between the poles of widespread acceptance and vilification. And history, for many decades, held this as true: marijuana, for example, was so popular it was decriminalized in a dozen states between 1973 and 1978, before skyrocketing rates of adolescent use turned public approval around and the drug was the demonized staple of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program.

david musto(The man, the myth, the legend: David Musto, 1936-2010)

But this model no longer holds so fast. After I taught them about the parent movement and the Reagan administration’s punitive turn in the war on drugs, we entered into terra incognita, the unknown land of the recent past. Sure, we talked about Woodstock ’94, “I didn’t inhale,” and medical marijuana. We discussed Prozac and the long history of mood-altering drugs. And, naturally, we talked about ADHD medications and meth. But once you get into the late ‘90s and 2000s, the natural line of drug history that developed so smoothly in decades past is interrupted, often jarringly, but how strange our nation’s relationship with drugs is today. With medical marijuana approved in 21 states and D.C., with two states legalizing its sale, and with doctors testing the use of psychedelics like mushrooms and LSD for those suffering from PTSD, the pendulum between approval and condemnation is no longer so clear. We’re in limbo these days, and that’s hard to teach.

Additionally, we had to talk about the racial ramifications of the drug war, a topic that has recently become disturbing clear. We read two chapters from Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and my students were both intrigued by and unsurprised by Alexander’s claims. That the drug war is racist, that it targets non-white men, and that it can be seen as the most recent iteration in a long line of racial oppression were not new ideas for my students, nor were they in any way controversial. Instead, they were taken as a simple truth, and one that pushed many of my students to argue – rather eloquently, I thought – that simply legalizing marijuana or decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs will not stop the racial targeting of non-white men. No longer incarcerating people for mild drug offenses would be a good start, but it would treat a symptom of larger forms of structural inequality, not the disease itself.

In our last week together, I asked my students what I forgot. What drugs didn’t I talk about enough, if I talked about them at all? How could I improve the course if I were to teach it again? Their answers were great. They wanted to know more about the history of drug abuse on college campuses, in order to understand why so many of their fellow students were abusing speed, cocaine, ADHD medications, molly and alcohol. Celebrity drug culture could fill at least a lecture or two. And what about the abuse of “alternative drugs” – Krokodil, bath salts, poppers, Robotripping, sizzurp, drinking Purell, and beezing? They also wanted to watch episodes of Cops and Intervention.

Teaching drug history was one of the most satisfying and entertaining things I’ve done in grad school, and it seemed like my students enjoyed it as well. Any thoughts on your own experience in teaching drug history, or things you think I should include for the next time? You can see my syllabus on my website.

DUIA Class(Teach Your Children Well: Drug Use in America After 1945 at George Washington University, Spring 2014)

 

 

Call for Authors — Alcohol: Social, Cultural, and Historical Perspectives

SAGE Reference is seeking authors for some of the 550 entries in a new work entitled Alcohol: Social, Cultural, and Historical Perspectives, which seeks to go beyond the United States and beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries to examine alcohol as a cultural and social phenomenon dating to the earliest days of humankind. This comprehensive project, edited by Scott C. Martin of Bowling Green State University, will be marketed to academic and public libraries as a printed book and as a digital product available to students via the library’s electronic services. Assignments are being made with a deadline of August 16, 2013. For a list of available articles and submission guidelines, contact Joseph Golson at alcohol@golsonmedia.com, providing your CV or a brief summary of your academic/publishing credentials in related disciplines.

Dispatches from London: “Under Control?” Conference

This past weekend alcohol and drug scholars across the globe descended upon London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to learn from each other about what they know best, alcohol and drugs.  The interdisciplinary conference does much to encourage scholarship across lines of disciplinary specializations, but also, the nation-state.  Below please find assorted notes from my time abroad:

Image

Perhaps most noted for his work Andean Cocaine, Paul Gootenberg gave a keynote speech addressing the concept of blowback.  Entitled “Controlling Cocaine?  1900-2000,” Gootenberg began with what might be considered an obvious truth for drug historians—that is, that if read from an historical perspective, the term “drug control” is an oxymoron.  Throughout the 20th century, drug control often perpetuates the antithesis of control.  Drug control efforts by the United States have bred more chaos, more illicit trade, more use, and worst of all, more violence.  In supporting his claim, Gootenberg examined the ways in which United States efforts to control the global supply of cocaine produced various unintended consequences.

Originally an economic historian by trade, Gootenberg makes good use of global commodity chains to explain the story of cocaine and attempts at its control.  In framing the long history of cocaine commodity chains and blowback, Gootenberg broke down the century into several distinct phases, each with specific unintended consequences.  In the first forty years of the 20th century, particularly after 1914, the United States attempted to push anti-cocaine measures onto the international agenda.  During this period, Andean trafficking in cocaine remained relatively benign, marginal, and nonviolent.  Between 1948 and 1973, cocaine came to be increasingly criminalized as illicit networks began to shift outward from the Andean region in response to FBN attempts to crush production in the region.  A pivotal moment in cocaine commodity chain development passed in 1960 when traffickers were exiled under the Cuban Revolution.  These exiled traffickers quickly became a Pan-American Network of traffickers, thereby expanding the commodity network for cocaine traffic.  Still though, Gootenberg carefully noted, the trade remained small and fairly peaceful through 1970. Read More »

Conferenece Report: Cannabis Roots: The Hidden History of Marijuana

Editor’s Note: Guest Blogger Chris Bennet takes us inside the Cannabis Roots Conference held this November in Vancouver, Canada — complete with video from each session!

When thinking of the history of marijuana, most people’s minds go back to the hippy era of the 60s and the pot smoking flower-children whose peace and love ideals have forever changed our culture. Some might even dig a little deeper,  recalling the 1930’s Reefer Madness era, where blacks and whites shared ‘marihuana cigarettes’ at tea houses while creating a new genre of music and breaking long-held racial barriers. However, few people realize that cannabis has played a role in human history for at least tens of thousand years, or that even thousands of years ago, its use as a medicine and inebriant was known and reached from the Russian Steppes to China, India, Greece, the Middle East, Central Europe and other areas of the Old World.  Indeed, even in ancient times, as today, it was a prominent item of trade, and it influenced these cultures in a variety of ways, just as it does for better or worse in our own. The Cannabis Roots conference explored and discussed this area of cannabis history with some of the top experts in the world.

Held November 3rd, 2012 in Canada’s Vancouver, British Columbia, Cannabis Culture Vapor Lounge, which also hosts the incredible collection of drug artifacts housed in ‘The Herb Museum,’ this one day event took place in what might be considered a ‘relaxed’ environment. Attended by about 70 people, it was also streamed live. The lectures are archived and provided in this article.

The event brought together a number of academics and authors who have written about the topic, and they all provided entertaining accounts of cannabis’ fascinating role and potential role in a number of areas of world history.Read More »

Are drug ethnographies necessary?

Several semesters ago, I taught an interdisciplinary course called Addiction in History, Science, and Culture. I had a wonderful group of undergrads, and they often posed questions that have troubled researchers across these fields for decades. A favorite question is the topic of this post: What is the point of ethnographic research? Didn’t we learn all we can from addiction ethnographies in the 1970s?

By the 1970s, we had learned quite a lot. Canonical qualitative research on drug cultures by Alfred Lindsmith, Bingham Dai, and Howard Becker was on paper before the heroin epidemics of the late 1960s and early 1970s hit. In the US and UK, those epidemics linked ethnography to epidemiology; community-based surveillance teams began to monitor drug using behaviors as though they were contagious diseases. The approach proved useful in the 1980s when injection drug use was found to be associated with transmission of a famously epidemic disease—HIV. Ethnographers, activists, and ex-addict outreach workers tapped into previous knowledge about networks of illicit drug users in order to communicate evidence-based preventive strategies (such as needle sterilization) that later became known as “harm reduction.”

Street Ethnographies, circa 1979

By the 1990s, harm reduction, though contentious, became the dominant paradigm in which ethnographic research on “under-studied” populations of illicit drug users was conducted. Nancy Campbell and Susan Shaw have suggested that state-funded ethnographic research today functions more like a modest public health intervention into the lives of drug-users than a source of new knowledge. In fact, they argue, the incitement to harm reduction could actually impede the exchange of information that runs contrary to the dominant paradigm. And the ethics of the interactions between researchers and drug-using study participants are tricky to begin with.Read More »

Report on the University of Michigan Meeting on “Sex/Gender and Psychoactive Substances”

Longtime Points readers no doubt know that one of the blog’s founding interests lies in bridging (or breaching) the institutional, material, and conceptual boundaries that separate historians from on the one hand, policy/public health folks and, on the other, “brain scientists” and their ilk.  Joe Gabriel blogged about the difficulties of this project in an early post, and some of the tensions involved in the project were discussed in last winter’s symposium on David Courtwright’s recent article on “Addiction and the Science of History,” the last piece of which you can find here, with links back to the five installments. As a small group blog, Points is limited in what it can do about this silo-ing problem– we can point it out, and we can provide a venue for work that attempts to address it, but (apologies to all the technological utopians out there) we lack the institutional muscle necessary to really change the structures of knowledge production.

Fortunately for those of us who still hold out revolutionary hope for genuine inter- or cross-disciplinary work, somebody out there does seem to have such muscle and, equally important, the will to put it to good use.  Even better, Points editors Nancy Campbell, Michelle McClellan, and Trysh Travis have gotten hooked in with them.  We participated a couple of weeks ago in a small working conference on Sex/Gender and Psychoactive Substances, sponsored by the University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center and its Center for Advancing Research and Solutions for Society, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and School of Social Work.

U. Michigan Working Conference

Along with about fifteen other researchers from a wide range of disciplines (full list of participants below), we talked quite candidly about the conceptual assumptions of our various disciplines, our institutions’ demands for certain “outputs” and “deliverables,” and our combined interest in and skepticism about one another’s research.   The conversation was structured around the topics of normative drug use, problem drug use, recovery and relapse, and we considered what we know and don’t know about these topics, as well as current controversies in the field and how they might be addressed by research, clinical practice and policy.  There was very little showboating, and a lot of genuine conversation and learning.Read More »

Laughing at / with the Dead

I recently had the pleasure of attending the annual meeting of the American Association for the History of medicine in Baltimore. It’s a great conference, filled with friendly and interesting people doing what academics generally do at such events – talking, schmoozing, drinking, and so on. If you work on the history of health, disease, or medicine I heartily recommend attending. There are always at least a few panels about drugs, and there are always people around who know a tremendous amount about the history of addiction and related topics. Plus, there’s always good food. This year they gave away free Haagen-Dazs ice cream and warm chocolate chip cookies. What’s not to like?

Anyway, I attended a number of interesting presentations at the conference, two of which got me thinking – not so much about the topic of the talks, but about the question of how we talk about the past. The first was a presentation on biomedical research in which the presenter made a number of amusing comments, some of which were at the expense of the people she was talking about. This is actually a pretty common dynamic at this conference – speakers will sometimes describe something objectionable that physicians did in the past, for example, and then sort of smirk or otherwise indicate their disdain for the behavior they are describing; audience members will react by chuckling or perhaps groaning in a sort of “I can’t believe they did that” type of response. In this particular case, the presenter made a few humorous comments about the research subjects who had been experimented on, at one point poking fun at one of their poems that she had discovered in an archive. The poem was admittedly quite bad, but there really wasn’t any reason to include it in the talk except for comic relief. Those people sure did write terrible poetry, didn’t they? Hah hah!

This sort of thing always makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me that we should be respectful of the people we study, even if they are dead and even if we disagree with what they thought or how they behaved. I’m not sure why I feel this way, but I do: it just strikes me as sort of rude to make fun of people, especially if those people don’t have the opportunity to make fun of you back. Of course, I also realize that I’m a bit uptight when it comes to these types of issues, and I recognize that I sometimes come off as a bit of a prig. I mean, really, what’s wrong with poking a bit of fun at people, especially if they aren’t around anymore to take offense? Beats me. All I know is that it makes me squirm in my chair and want to go out and get one of those cookies that I mentioned earlier. So there I sat, listening to the jokes about people being experimented on in years past, feeling both slightly offended and somewhat defensive about my own stuffiness. I probably should have just called it a day and gone back to my room for a nap.

Not Funny!

On the other hand, I also saw a talk in Baltimore in which the presenter was very serious – and I mean very serious – and spent a significant amount of time chastising other historians for not adequately addressing the suffering of the many people who died due to a certain catastrophic event. The speaker didn’t seem to realize that he was speaking to a friendly audience – I mean, historians of medicine are more than happy to talk about death and destruction, and to assign blame for said death and destruction – and he came off as both insufferable and self-righteous. That was a decidedly unfunny talk, and I can’t say that I left it any more pleased than I left the talk about medical experimentation. One was too funny, or perhaps funny in the wrong way, while the other was decidedly not funny enough, or at least not enjoyable enough. In both cases I probably would have preferred to be somewhere else.Read More »

Addiction, History and Historians: David Courtwright replies

Editor’s Note:  We’ve been very pleased to post a series of responses to David’s Courtwright’s essay on addiction, history and historians.  Now that Nancy Campbell, Alex Mold, Daniel Bradburd, and Samuel Roberts have all had their say, it seems fitting for David Courtwright to offer a brief reply to their thoughtful responses.  For Points readers not familiar with David, he is currently Presidential Professor of History at the University of North Florida.  He’s also the author of several books, including Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America (updated edition, Harvard University Press, 2001), Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World (Harvard University Press, 2001), and No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America (Harvard University Press, 2010).

Addiction Neuroscience, the Progressive Implosion of Pathology, and Historical Explanation.

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) claims to support “over 85 percent of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction.” The figure may be a stretch, as it is unclear which health aspects, which drugs, and which addictions the research covers. As Alex Mold notes, NIDA has no monopoly on scientific investigation. Yet I do not doubt that NIDA’s current brain disease paradigm commands the high ground of funding, prestige, and publicity. Should NIDA and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism merge to form a new National Institute of Substance Use and Addiction Disorders, the unifying brain-disease model will become even more dominant. NIDA Director Nora Volkow puts the Grand Unifying Theory succinctly: “Addictions tend to move together, sharing many triggers and a great deal of biology.”

Historians and social scientists do not necessarily regard these developments with equanimity, as the Points responses and other comments on my work make clear. Dan Bradburd captures the worried mood by likening the brain disease paradigm to a head on the aroused Hydra of reductionism, and by suggesting that, in their own ways, Charles Murray and Nora Volkow are bent over the ancient oars of naturalized and problematized difference. Why, then, do I remain guardedly hopeful that there is something positive for historians in addiction neuroscience?Read More »