“Mapping the Muggleheads” – Digital History, GIS, and Marijuana Historiography

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Adam Rathge, director of enrollment strategies and part-time history professor at the University of Dayton, drug scholar, and longtime friend of Points. In it, he shows how using tools like digital mapping and geocoding can shed new light on historical accounts and reveal previously hidden or misunderstood narratives–particularly useful when trying to understand controversial issues like alcohol and drugs. Enjoy!

Nearly three years ago, on January 6, 2016, I attended a session at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting entitled “Digital Publishing Initiatives: Training Humanities Scholars.” The panel was sponsored by the AHA Graduate and Early Career Committee and featured four excellent papers, one of which ultimately led me on a digital publishing journey that will finally come to fruition later this week with the forthcoming publication of “Mapping the Muggleheads: New Orleans and the Marijuana Menace, 1920–1930.”

Before elaborating on that story, however, I’d be remiss not to mention the other papers I saw that day. Adam Mandelman and Spring Greeney from the University of Wisconsin-Madison discussed the work of Edge Effects, a digital magazine produced by graduate students at the Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE) at UW-Madison. Mark Sheaves from the University of Texas at Austin showed off the work of Not Even Past, a monthly publication designed “to bring great history writing to the public” (not unlike our beloved Points blog). Patrick R. Potyondy and Leticia Wiggins from the Ohio State University chronicled the monthly publications from Origins that “provided historical insight on current events that matter to the United States and to the world” (also not unlike our beloved Points blog).

While each of these online publications was impressive, my inspiration that day came from Meredith Doster of Emory University, who presented the work of Southern Spaces – a peer-reviewed, multimedia, open-access journal published by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship. As Meredith showed, Southern Spaces was dedicated to publishing research “about real and imagined spaces and places in the US South and their global connections.” Almost immediately my mind was churning with excitement. At the time, I was in the throes of writing my dissertation (“Cannabis Cures: American Medicine, Mexican Marijuana, and the Origins of the War on Weed, 1840-1937”) and was in the process of formulating a chapter that drew heavily on early twentieth-century newspaper accounts of marijuana use in New Orleans. The city’s “marijuana menace” seemed like a perfect avenue for exploring real and imaged spaces.

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The Forgotten Drug War: Unknown Malaria Victim (New Orleans, 1932)

“The real war will never get in the books”–Walt Whitman, 1875

On October 31, 1932, Charity Hospital in New Orleans admitted a comatose man, diagnosed with malaria and thought to be an opiate addict. The patient deserted the hospital after being revived. Two days later, he was once again brought to Charity hospital, again in a coma. He died the following day. Over the course of the next month, five more Charity Hospital patients, all injecting drug users, died of malaria. Over the course of the following year, a total of 48 injecting drug users were admitted to the same hospital with diagnoses of malaria, 10 of whom died.

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