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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The year 1934 was a turning point for cannabis in the U.S. This was the year that Harry Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics turned its attention toward the marijuana menace, thus inaugurating the reefer madness era. That same year, Dr. Walter Bromberg, senior psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York, published the first in a series of articles about his examinations of cannabis users in New York. The article, entitled “Marihuana Intoxication” appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Historians have pointed to Bromberg’s work as a direct challenge to the FBN’s narrative of the marijuana menace during this period. His general conclusions seem to affirm this characterization, especially in terms of the extent and impact of use. For example, in the ’34 article, Bromberg describes a survey of felony convicts in Manhattan in which only seven smoked the drug regularly, and none of their crimes were committed as a result of, during or after, marijuana intoxication. By 1939, Bromberg was able to link the misinformation directly to the propagandistic efforts of various public institutions, even forcing Anslinger to respond personally. Continue reading →
Recent work on commodities, particularly Paul Gootenberg’s recent work on cocaine has highlighted the roll of knowledge formation in understanding the dynamics of commodity relationships. In his book, Gootenberg traced the commodity chain of cocaine as it was shaped through political, economic, and intellectual filters in Bolivia, Peru, Germany, the United States and elsewhere. Gootenberg’s work has broadened our understanding of this global commodity over a long period of time, and suggests that the nature of these knowledge filters shift as commodities cross temporal and geographical boundaries.
Historians who study commodities within more limited spacial and temporal boundaries can still find Gootenberg’s work useful. As Michael Pollan suggests in his recent work, The Botany of Desire, the meaning of cannabis was contested at the foundational level – of biology itself – as the plant was molded and shaped for a multiplicity of human uses. Taken together, the historical and intellectual approaches of these and similar studies can help us better understand how, during the first four decades of the twentieth century, cannabis was not merely transformed from an important industrial input to a dangerous recreational drug, but often held both distinctions simultaneously.
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Galaxy Spinning in Space
Broadly speaking, it lasts from ages 10 to 20, with a greater salience between, say, 12 and 15 years old.
This is the period of life (at least in my life) when the Big Questions got the most attention. These questions concern such matters as: What is the meaning of life (if any)? Is there a god? What sort of a god? Do we somehow outlive our corporeal existence? Why is there so much suffering? Why does anything exist? And do humans have free will or are we mere automatons shoved around by a radically deterministic universe? I well remember anguishing over these kinds of questions.
In my junior year as a Berkeley undergrad, for instance, I remember the free will and determinism question being associated with a long patch of depression — whether as the depression’s partial cause or partial effect I cannot say. Continue reading →