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Points Interview: Paul Gootenberg and Cecilia Autrique

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

At the end of the first day of the biennial Conference of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society (ADHS) Mexico City 2022 we interviewed Dr. Paul Gootenberg, President of ADHS, and Dr. Cecilia Autrique, the local UNAM organizer. We talked briefly about the importance of doing this conference in Mexico and what it represented to young academics interested in the social aspect of alcohol and drugs, and about the influence that ADHS has had in past years.

As President of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society (ADHS), what are the challenges of organizing an international conference?

Paul Gootenberg: The organization has existed for four decades but in different forms; in the last years it has become more professional and international. The Society organizes an international conference every two years. Some of the venues have been Holland and China, it was in Shanghai that we decided to do the next one in Mexico. This Conference had the goal of representing the interests and research on drugs and narco-traffic in Latin America. This helps to internationalize membership, interests, and research studies.

Cecilia Autrique: The challenges have been more on the local organization (laughs). Like any conference, it is difficult to organize. We received presenters from nineteen different countries, we have had a broad participation. The themes have been fascinating with a wide exchange of ideas. Many of the presenters have published their work or are in the process of publishing new books or articles. This allows a wonderful (academic) exchange. One particularity of this conference (I don’t think we did it in China) was a round-table on teaching methodologies – this enriches the practice.

Paul Gootenberg: It is a mixture of participation methods. The round-tables allow an open discussion of diverse themes. There are panels of diverse subjects. We planned four keynote speakers, including the President’s Address, that is, my opening speech. This is the tradition of the Conference. This one has been a success; it the first one since the COVID 19 pandemic, (the one of 2021 was postponed). There were some challenges, especially bureaucratic here in Mexico, but we had the enthusiasm and the strong support of the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales and the Coordinación de Humanidades, including economic, material, and human.

As experienced researchers, what advice can you give to young historians starting their careers in Mexico? How can we contribute to society from the academia?

Paul Gootenberg: The only important thing is the participation of students, young professors or researchers of history and other disciplines (we foster an interdisciplinary approach to history). The most important is to get involved in a group that is more than the organization or the institution, it is a community of interested (academics). We are colleagues and friends that grow as a group. In each Conference we have more projects, more exchange. We publish books, we have book awards for PhDs, and for articles that our magazine publishes twice a year. We advance towards a bigger community of researchers on the field. The material base is the growing interest on the history on drugs and alcohol.

Before, studies of alcohol and drugs were rare. But this has changed, it is now a well-established and a growing field in Latin America, the United States, Asia, Europe, etcetera. We are at a point where we have gained legitimacy in our field of study; the historiographical essays in The Oxford Handbook of Global Drug History, were an important challenge to our subject area. Twenty years ago, there were few academics in this field, now we have numerous. There are still many that do not know about this, but we hope they come to the next (conference). My interest in the field is not only academic, although we are serious academics, and we try to use facts and footnotes and all those things (historians) do. But we all know that the history of drugs has important implications for the present world. This is part of the history. We are committed to exploring the connections of history with the present, and with public policy.

Cecilia Autrique: We believe it is important to influence the public debate (on drug policy), to find better institutional alternatives in public policy, to consider new academic perspectives presented in this type of spaces.


Thanks to this rewarding interview we learned about the importance of research in the social studies of drugs, alcohol, illegal traffic, etcetera. We thank Dr. Paul Gootenberg and Dra. Cecilia Autrique for their willingness and effort to have the ADHS 2022 Conference in Mexico City, to promote the awareness of such an important field. This encourages future (and present generations) to foster academic exchange and dissemination of knowledge to enrich this field of studies (alcohol and drugs) that until recently has been a taboo in society.


Editor’s Note: Thank-you to Abigail Hernández, Eduardo León and Francisco Carillo for conducting this interview, and for translating their original post into English for Points. Feature image is a photograph of a group visit to Teotihuacan during the 2022 ADHS Conference.


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