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Teaching Points– A History of Drugs in the Modern World

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Editor’s Note: Continuing in a great year-old tradition, Points kicks off this back to school season as we did last year, with a celebration of drug and alcohol pedagogy from various fields.  Over the next five weeks, the “Teaching Points” series will present the syllabi from relevant classes in history, criminology, international relations, economics and behavioral sciences.  The day after the syllabus appears, the instructor will offer a “Comment on the Class” that discusses their highs (as it were) and lows, their middles and muddles.  Our first foray in the series comes from Matthew Crawford, Department of History at Kent State, whom some Points readers may know from his superb stint as a guest blogger last winter.  We’ve positioned him first in the series because of the modest scope and ambition of his senior history elective “A History of Drugs in the Modern World.”

Course Description and Objectives What is a “drug”? How are they discovered and produced? Why and how do some drugs get distributed widely and others do not?  Why do societies and states regulate the distribution of some drugs and not others?  These are some of the central questions that this course seeks to answer.  We will employ a comparative and historical approach to examine the ways in which societies identify, develop, produce, consume and regulate (or not) various pharmacological substances.  Course readings will cover a range historical case studies of primarily plant-based drugs from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America.  One of the main features and forces of world history since 1500 has been globalization.  As a result, we will pay special attention to what happens when drugs move across political, social, economic, and cultural boundaries. Possible case studies to be covered include: kola, coffee, tobacco, cocaine, opium, quinine, anti-cancer drugs and contraceptives.  Members of the course will do a short project on a drug of their choice in order to sharpen their skills at exploring the history of modern societies and cultures through material objects.

Our objectives for the course include: • Be able to describe and discuss major trends in the history of drugs in the early modern and modern periods (c. 1500 to the present) • Understand the use of material culture and objects in historical understanding of the modern world and its development • Learn how to identify, evaluate and compare different historical accounts of drugs, their development and their regulation • Learn how to analyze primary sources and relate them to their historical context • Learn how to synthesize information from primary and secondary sources into a coherent historical narrative and how to use evidence to support a historical interpretation or argument

Transnational, Transtemporal

Course Readings Required Readings Brandt, Allan M. The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America. New York: Basic Books, 2007.

Dikötter, Frank, Lars Laamann, and Zhou Xun. Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Goodman, Jordan and Vivian Walsh. The Story of Taxol: Nature and Politics in the Pursuit of an Anti-Cancer Drug. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Gootenberg, Paul. Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Reidy, James. Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. New York: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2005.

Additional readings or links to reading may be posted on our course website on Blackboard.  You MUST bring a copy of these readings to class.

Recommended Readings Rampolla, Mary Lynn. A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. (Highly recommended)

Spillane, Joseph.  Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States, 1884-1920.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang.  Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants and Intoxicants.  New York: Vintage Books, 1992 [1980].

Course Plan and Schedule of Readings NOTE: Readings should be completed by the Monday of the week under which they are listed.

Week 1: Introduction: What is a drug? Why study the history of drugs?

  1. W 1/20: Introductions and Course Overview

  2. Case Study #1: Tobacco in the Twentieth-Century America

Week 2: The Culture of Consumerism and Cigarettes as Cultural Artifacts

  1. Brandt, The Cigarette Century, Ch. 1-3

  2. M 1/25: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 1/27: Discussion

Week 3: “Doubt is Our Product”: Public Health & the “Science” of Big Tobacco

  1. Brandt, The Cigarette Century, Ch. 4-6

  2. Links to Tobacco Documents on Blackboard site

  3. M 2/1: Library Session: Finding Tobacco Documents + in-class reading response

  4. W 2/3: Discussion + oral presentations

Week 4: The Regulation of Big Tobacco

  1. Brandt, The Cigarette Century, Ch. 7 and 9

  2. M 2/8: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 2/10: Discussion + oral presentations

Week 5: The Litigation and Politics of Big Tobacco

  1. Brandt, The Cigarette Century, 10, 11 & 440-445 (strongly recommended: Ch. 13)

  2. M 2/15: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 2/17: Discussion

  4. Tobacco Documents Project Due

  5. Case Study #2: Narcotic Culture? Opium in China

Week 6: The “Psychoactive Revolution” & the Early Modern Global Drug Trade

  1. Dikötter, et. al., Narcotic Culture, Ch. 1-5

  2. M 2/22: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 2/24: Discussion + oral presentations

Week 7: Prohibition and Pills: China develops a Drug Problem

  1. Dikötter, et. al, Narcotic Culture, Ch. 6-9, and pp. 201-211

  2. M 3/1: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 3/3: Discussion + oral presentations

  4. Case Study #3: Drugs as Global Commodities: Coca and Cocaine

Week 8: Cocaine Rising: Drugs, Modernity and the National Imagine

  1. Gootenburg, Andean Cocaine, Introduction, Ch. 1 and 2

  2. M 3/8: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 3/10: Library Session: Finding Sources on Drugs

Week 9: Cocaine Falling: Commodity Chains & the Emergence of Prohibition

  1. Gootenburg, Andean Cocaine, Ch. 3 and 5

  2. M 3/15: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 3/17: Discussion + oral presentations

  4. Essay exam #1 prompt distributed in class

Week 10: Illicit Cocaine: Causes and Consequences of the Illegal Drug Trade

  1. Gootenburg, Andean Cocaine, Ch. 6 and 7

  2. M 3/22: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 3/24: Discussion  + oral presentations

  4. Essay Exam #1 DUE

  5. Case Study #4: Drugs for Health and Recreation: Taxol and Viagra

*** SPRING BREAK (NO CLASS M 3/29 and W 3/31) ***

Week 11: Bioprospecting and Drug Development

  1. Goodman and Walsh, The Story of Taxol, Introduction, Ch. 1-4

  2. M 4/5: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 4/7: Discussion + oral presentations

Week 12: Who owns nature? Drugs as Public Resources and as Public Goods

  1. Goodman and Walsh, The Story of Taxol, Ch. 5 and 6

  2. M 4/12: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 4/14: Discussion + oral presentations

Week 13: Legal Recreational Drugs and the Creation of Markets and Users

  1. Reidy, Hard Sell, Prologue, Ch. 1,2, 4, and 6

  2. M 4/19: Discussion + in-class reading response

  3. W 4/21: Discussion + oral presentations

Week 14: Sex, Drugs, and…: The Little Blue Pill and the Pill

  1. Reidy, Hard Sell, 8-13, and Epilogue

  2. M 4/26: Discussion+ in-class reading response

  3. W 4/28: Discussion+ oral presentations

Week 15: Drugs at the Movies and Course Conclusion

  1. M 5/3: In-class screening of Traffic

  2. Essay Exam #2 Due

  3. W 5/5: Course conclusion

  4. Final Project Due Wednesday, May 12, 2010 by 5:00 PM



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