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Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Editor’s Note: Readers of Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society’s journal, are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of recent dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Until recently, Dr. Erlen, the History of Medicine Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, curated and published his dissertation lists in the print edition of the journal. Last August, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society moved the publication of Erlen’s bibliography to the blog. Below, we highlight a few entries that may be of interest to alcohol and drugs historians and provide a link to the complete listing of Erlen’s selections from the ProQuest index. The highlighted entries were harvested from ProQuest’s database in the spring of 2015.

Link to complete bibliographies:

Highlights: A liquid spirit: Materiality and meaning in the making of quality American whiskey

Author: Clark, Sierra Burnett

Department: Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health

Institution: New York University

Advisor: Ray, Krishnendu Committee: Bentley, Amy; Herzfeld, Michael


This is a study about the practice of making judgments about material things. It asks how people define, perceive, measure, and evaluate quality for American whiskey. Recognizing that assessments of quality are forever entangled in historically-contingent ideas about civility and sensation, that tastes for foods are biophysical processes constituted by cultural norms and social contexts, and that judgments cannot be divorced from collective histories and individual biographies, it refuses to draw an artificial distinction between the social and the material dimensions of taste. Rather, this research attends to the interdependence of complex systems. It asks how moral systems merge with chemical ones, how economics intersects with corporeal life, and how ideological formations blend with natural ones. In so doing, it argues for a reconceptualization of taste and aesthetics as jointly material and social projects. Five chapters explore the question of quality for American whiskey, each from a different angle. Chapter II examines four practices that together create the parameters of distinction for whiskey; Chapter III uses the cultural biography of a molecule, vanillin, to expose the evolution of taste norms; Chapter IV traces connections between early debates on whiskey regulation and a profound ambiguity about the promises of modernity; Chapter V shows how heritage productions within whiskey distilleries animate the myth of the American frontier in ways that reproduce its exclusionary tendencies; Chapter VI argues that while tasting protocols promoted by distillers and critics idealize a mode of critical distance that denigrates the body and marks pleasure as problematic, consumers of whiskey nevertheless conceive of corporeal sensation, including intoxication, as integral to the taste experience. Collectively, these chapters substantiate two broad yet provisional conclusions. First, whiskey reconfirms and derives its value from a particular construction of nature as external, transcendent, and timeless. Second, by engaging legends of the frontier, which reify a mythic white male experience, and idealizing disembodied perception, itself reflective of exclusionary ideologies, the mundane act of judging whiskey quality can be seen as a mechanism in the reproduction and renegotiation of hegemonic values and of the social hierarchies they sustain.

The Asian Origins of Global Narcotics Control, c. 1860-1909 Author: Rimner, Steffen

Department: History

Institution: Harvard University

Advisor: Manela, Erez Committee: Maier, Charles S.; Iriye, Akira


This dissertation traces the ferment of private ressentiment, public protest and political response to the Asian opium trade from the “Second Opium War (1856-60) to the first, multilateral anti-drug summit in human history, the International Opium Commission in Shanghai (1909). Rather than isolating single anti-opium movements and drug control policies by administration, the focus is on moments and dynamics of ideological proliferation, social mobilization and political lobbying across the borders of societies in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Europe and North America.

The locally diverse conditions of intersecting, transnational networks of social critique propelled anti-opium publicity to international prominence, fomenting international opposition as the cumulative product of cross-cultural cooperation. Co-emerging networks of social critique ranged from the first Indian efforts toward the protection and education of girls, European fears of human trafficking and the North American temperance agenda to late Qing national reformism. Buttressed by ideological alliances, attacks on opium regimes benefited from a broader footing than the assumption of isolated anti-opium activism suggests. On colonial, national and local levels, individual anti-opium movements owed their diversity and resilience to flexible combinations of a variety of causes, with each serving as a docking station for partner ideologies and alliances.

The opium regimes under attack involved British, French and Dutch colonies across Asia as well as Qing China. Responding to the unprecedented interference of non-governmental actors and the ways they refashioned anti-opium interpretations, governments across Asia convened the International Opium Commission to agree on the principle of drug production for medical and scientific needs only, building the bedrock of all future initiatives to institutionalize global narcotics control in diplomacy and international law. The density of anti-opium initiatives that overlapped in space and time points to the fruitfulness of synthesizing the history of European, American and Japanese empires in Asia, of the first generations of Asian transnational activists, of the origins of transnational publicity in Asia, of the ideological roots of public health movements, of Asian national resistance and of cooperation in new domains of global governance, legitimated by the newly perceived priority of international public opinion.

The value of a pint: A cultural economy of American beer

Author: Beckham, J. Nikol

Department: Communication Studies

Institution: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Advisor: Grossberg, Lawrence Committee: Palm, Michael, Pickles, John, Garcia, Jay, Dempsey, Sarah

Abstract: As a material commodity beer has remained surprisingly unchanged since its discovery–composed of roughly the same ingredients, combined in roughly the same proportions, to achieve roughly the same product. What has been in dramatic flux, particularly over the past 100 years, is how beer is valued. This dissertation considers the numerous and complex ways beer has been and continues to be woven into the fabric of contemporary American life. Changes in the valuation of beer–for instance beer valued as a uniquely taxable and critically profitable source of depression-era internal revenue; as a means of supporting U.S. troops during WWII; as an exemplar of achievable value-added through branding; as a racialized social ill; as a catalyst for technological innovation in packaging and distribution; as emblematic of American masculinity; or as a touchstone of activism advocating sustainable practices of producing, distributing and consuming food and drink–are most often narrowly cast as products of economic change or products of cultural change. In crafting a historically and contextually contingent cultural economy of American beer, this project frames such changes as a complex articulation of the two and in doing so, advances a theory of culturally embedded valuation.

Altered states: The American psychedelic aesthetic

Author: Cook, Lana

Department: English

Institution: Northeastern University

Advisor: Kaplan, Carla Committee: Hedges, Inez, Brown, Kimberly J.


This dissertation traces the development of the American psychedelic aesthetic alongside mid-twentieth century American aesthetic practices and postmodern philosophies. Psychedelic aesthetics are the varied creative practices used to represent altered states of consciousness and perception achieved via psychedelic drug use. Thematically, these works are concerned with transcendental states of subjectivity, psychic evolution of humankind, awakenings of global consciousness, and the perceptual and affective nature of reality in relation to social constructions of the self. Formally, these works strategically blend realist and fantastic languages, invent new language, experimental typography and visual form, disrupt Western narrative conventions of space, time, and causality, mix genres and combine disparate aesthetic and cultural traditions such as romanticism, surrealism, the medieval, magical realism, science fiction, documentary, and scientific reportage. This project attends to early exemplars of the psychedelic aesthetic, as in the case of Aldous Huxley’s early landmark text The Doors of Perception (1954), forgotten pioneers such as Jane Dunlap’s Exploring Inner Space (1961), Constance Newland’s My Self and I (1962), and Storm de Hirsch’s Peyote Queen (1965), cult classics such as Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), and ends with the psychedelic aesthetics’ popularization in films like Roger Corman’s The Trip (1967) and Tobe Hooper’s Eggshells (1969). In their postmodern concern with ontological questions of consciousness, being and reality, these texts make visible the central tensions of an American culture in the throes of dramatic societal and technological change.

Rockin’ the Comstock: Exploring the Unlikely and Underappreciated Role of a Mid-Nineteenth Century Northern Nevada Ghost Town (Virginia City) in the Development of the 1960s Psychedelic Esthetic and “San Francisco Sound”

Author: Barnett, Engrid

Department: Geography

Institution: University of Nevada at Reno

Advisor: Starrs, Paul F. Committee: Hardesty, Donald, Barber, Alicia, Ake, David, Heaton, Jill S., Read, Marsha H.


Virginia City, Nevada, epitomized and continues to epitomize a liminal community — existing on the very limen of the civilized and uncivilized, legitimate and illegitimate, parochial frontier and cosmopolitan metropolis. Throughout a 150-year history, its theaters attracted performers of national and international acclaim who entertained a diverse civic population. Many Comstock performers found success through the promotion of their own ‘exoticism,’ navigating the seductive ambiguity of cultural liminality. Virginia City historically represented a major crossroads of transformation and innovation defined by its: (1) multi-layered liminality; (2) community-building efforts (music, parades, and theater); (3) interconnectivity to San Francisco and associated amenities; (4) carefully cultivated place myths; and, (5) role as a tourist space for play and fantasy.

A sophisticated nineteenth-century metropolis with a multicultural landscape and wide array of amenities, its twentieth-century shade represented the converse. The population nearly vanished along with any semblances of its former diversity. Amenities were spare: isolation, silence, and expansive vistas. Residents were drawn to the area by Comstock family lineage, the desire to languish in reclusiveness, and/or frontier myths propagated by Popular Culture and perpetuated by local proprietors. Among the latter were colorful Bohemians (e.g. Duncan Emrich, Lucius Beebe, and Charles Clegg) who stemmed the community’s slide into decay while fabricating and performing a Wild West of their own styling. In the 1950s and 60s, Bonanza and Gunsmoke brought tourists; the area celebrated its first tangible economy since the mines and brothels closed in the early twentieth century. Tourism came at a cost, though, as the Bohemians — increasingly alienated by crowds and kitsch — fled for their eccentric lives. Comstock business owners, nonetheless, spun fabulous legends, independent of any facts, transforming their city and its history. In 1965, however, real legends arrived. Fifty long-haired Bay Area Hipsters came to explore the Comstock’s multi-layered liminality, re-establish the area’s role as San Francisco’s exurb, build an alternate community through ritual and music, and perform their own frontier expectations. Hipsters coalescing around the Red Dog Saloon inadvertently developed many of the primary features of a Counterculture soon to take San Francisco by storm. The result? Virginia City’s ‘Summer of Love.’


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