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Dissertation Roundup: Interpreting Drug Use and Smuggling in History

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Editor’s Note: Today we bring you another selection of drug-related dissertations, dutifully compiled as part of an ongoing bibliography by University of Pittsburgh History of Medicine Librarian Jonathon Erlen. Contact him at

Narcomundo: How Narcotraficantes Gained Control of Northern Mexico and Beyond, 1945-1985

Author: Hernandez, Carlos Armando

Abstract: Mexico’s official history does not properly address the Drug Wars and its effect on the nation as well as the U.S. – Mexico border region, including criminal spillover between the two countries especially since 1911. Drawing from evidence gathered at Mexico’s National Archives – specifically declassified documents from Mexico’s secret police files – contemporary news accounts from Tijuana, Mexico City, and California, as well as court cases and long ignored political biographies, I trace the historical origins of the Drug Wars in Northern Mexico extending into Mexico City; a history of drugs, dissidence, and violence. The First Phase goes back to the year 1911 when General and later Governor Esteban Cantú arrived to defend the Northern Territory of Baja California against incursions from Southern California by the Flores Magón brothers during the start of the Mexican Revolution. This was also a period where the role of vice tourism in Tijuana and Mexicali profited from the Prohibition Era in the United States (1920-1933) set the foundations for a drug trafficking model– developed for Baja Norte by Governor Cantú. This cross-border smuggling model was later refined in Baja under General and then Governor Abelardo L. Rodríguez (1921-1930), who then took the model to Mexico when he joined President Ortiz as a Secretary of Defense (1932) and Economy (1932) before he became Interim President of Mexico (1932-1934). The model has held to this day. The Second Phase encompasses Mexico’s official start on the War on Drugs from 1945 to 1985 and coincides not surprisingly with the start of the Cold War in the late 1940s. In this Second Phase I analyze the consolidation and metamorphoses of Drug Trafficking Organizations in Mexico’s War on Drugs up to 1960. Thus, I explore the connection between East-Coast based Mafia and its incursion and eventual control of the drug trade and organized crime in the West Coast as well as eventually the transborder region. I also analyze the early eradication campaigns carried out by Mexican authorities first on their Baja regional level and subsequently at the national level. I also examine links between “Bugsy” Siegel and his alleged control of the drug trade in Southern California, which stretched easily to Tijuana. This volume also investigates the War on Drugs and a “hidden dirty-war” against dissidence and peasants in rural Mexico, a span that ranged from 1965 to 1985. Under the pretext of eradicating drug production by narcocultivadores or narcogrowers, Mexican authorities also launched an offensive against dissident groups interested in readdressing the land issue in rural Mexico, effectively eradicating dissidence, but not drugs. The search for the source of drugs soon involved the CIA-Contra-Drug Trafficking connection from the Mexican perspective. By the early 1980s, The Mexican journalist Manuel Buendía had begun to explore the link between the CIA-Contra-Drug Trafficking Conenction from the Mexican perspective, and he hypothesized that it needed the complicity of corrupt Mexican and law enforcement officials. In addition to his, Buendía also uncovered the participation of other state actors, such as the Mexico Secret Police (DFS) and the CIA. Buendía was murdered in 1984. The drug issues came together in the 1985 abduction in Guadalajara and torture-murder of DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. To unwind this complicated issue, I analyze the official and unofficial versions about this major transnational crisis. The Third Phase in my analysis begins, then, with the grisly murder of “Kiki” by Drug Warriors, which threw down the gauntlet to the United States. The Mexican Government came under great pressure to take drastic action to help U.S. agents that had flocked to Mexico to find the killers. In this volume I only offer a brief sketch of issues that need full research of this Third Phase since 1985. My on-going investigations call for a follow-up volume to cover the complex rise of full-scale “turf wars” between drug lords, and between the drug lords and the military/police. This research will lead us into President Calderón’s so-called “War on Drug Lords,” which in reality had already gotten underway. In the Epilogue of this volume, I articulate questions that address both the recent and drug history of the region. The analysis I raise presents a deep historical analysis of Mexico up to 1985. It also provides a starting point for future scholarship to be placed in its proper historical context, thus utilizing my historical scholarship as developed in this work as a launching point in order to place Mexico’s long-standing major problem: Public Order and Safety, the disorder of which threatens the very being of what is called the “Mexican Nation System of Government.”

Publication year: 2015

Advisor: Wilkie, James W.; Gomez-Quinones, Juan

University/institution: University of California, Los Angeles

Department: History

Treacherous waters: Drug smuggling in coastal Fujian, 1832-1938

Author: Thilly, Peter Dewitt

Abstract: This dissertation is a social history of the “opium century” – the one hundred years during which opiate narcotics dominated the Chinese economy and became normalized within Chinese society. It is also a local history, focusing on the particular experience of the people living along the southern Fujian littoral. It is a story of change over time, exploring the chains of connection and patterns of divergence between the 1830s, when the opium trade first began to truly flourish on the Fujian coast, and the 1930s, when drugs were intertwined with nearly every aspect of social, political and economic life in the region. Unlike previous studies of opium, which have focused either on states and institutions or on the culture of consumption, “Treacherous Waters” is built on the premise that we can learn something important about the world by examining the lives of drug traders. It is this focus on people and profits that allows me to say something new about some of the most well-studied questions in Chinese and global history. Why was the opium trade so big, and how did it remain so vital for so long? How as historians should we understand the importance of the opium trade? “Treacherous Waters” shows why the ordinary people who traded in opium mattered. Opium was a source of livelihood, which people defended, often violently, against the incursion of powerful institutions and states. By focusing on the criminal brokers who operated the drug trade, “Treacherous Waters” tells overlapping stories about the local experiences of global imperialism, nationalism, statebuilding and corruption. The people who dealt in drugs, over the course of the opium century, carved out a particular capitalist version of local power in the face of encroaching, modernizing states. In so doing, drug traders transformed the processes of nation-building and imperialism in China. Drug traders were the original traitors, enemies of the nationalist enterprise. They also made their own meanings out of imperialism and statebuilding projects, and in examining their experiences, “Treacherous Waters” sheds new light on how modern Chinese history unfolded during the chaos of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Publication year: 2015

Advisor: Macauley, Melissa A.

University/institution: Northwestern University

Department: History

Drinking with the Dead: Alcohol and Altered States in Ancestor Veneration Rituals of Zhou Dynasty China and Iron Age Palestine

Author: Armstrong, David Edward

Abstract: Alcohol has been the means to induce altered states of consciousness in many religious contexts. This thesis challenges the current scholarly view of ritual drinking as merely a symbolic act. Through a broad cross-cultural survey, the range of ritual uses of alcohol is revealed. Two cases are explored in more detail. Alcohol is established as the trigger which induced a state of spirit mediumship in the Zhou dynasty Chinese Personator of the Dead. The Ugaritic and Iron Age Palestinian marzeah is interpreted as a descent to the dead induced by alcohol consumption. Principal sources for these two cases are, respectively: Chinese Odes, histories and ritual texts, Ugaritic texts and Biblical prophetic literature. Archaeological evidence also contributes to understanding these two rituals in cultural context. An analogical model of ancestor veneration is proposed as a comparative framework for analyses of the ritual role of the Personator and the marzeah. Ideologies of corporate family, the view of living and dead as interdependent, and divination as a means of communication across the grave are the central elements of this model.

Publication year: 1994

Advisor: Paper, Jordan D.

University/institution: York University (Canada)


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