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Starting Points

Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

Drawing the Peddler: “Reefer Madness” in Four Editorial Cartoons

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

Everyone loves a good editorial cartoon. They dramatize contemporary issues in newspapers, in magazines, and, increasingly, in online publications. They routinely engage in a visual form of incisive social critique. And they can be funny—although over the years some of the “humor” has come from degrading caricatures of racial and gendered stereotypes.

For all of these reasons, editorial cartoons are useful teaching tools for historians, and they routinely appear in history textbooks, historical websites, and even on history exams. Currently, some of my students in a semester-long guided research project are using political cartoons to explain aspects of US drug history. (Others in the class are analyzing advertisements or newspaper reporting, and I will share more about the course in a future post).

Given the press bonanza around cannabis during the “reefer madness” era of the 1930s, I have been surprised during my research and teaching to have found only four cartoons from the period that specifically mentioned marijuana. To be sure, there were plenty of cartoons that focused on related issues like “narcotics” control—which often included cannabis—and the Uniform State Narcotic Act. Such cartoons, however, tended to focus on heroin (usually represented by snake imagery) and have not been useful for my marijuana research. There was also another interesting 1940 cartoon that mentioned marijuana in a very different context. This image depicted South American countries being stupefied—like a “Mexican” marijuana user—by “Nazi Propaganda” [1]

Despite spilling less editorial cartoon ink than might be expected given the sheer volume of press generated on the subject during the 1930s, these four identified cartoons present a specific and surprisingly nuanced take on Reefer Madness. They illustrate that the marijuana peddler was often the central focus of the evolving American war on cannabis. Drawn by four different cartoonists in four different cities, the four peddler characters were remarkably similar. In each image, the peddler was not only the source of the drug, but also seemed to be the source (perhaps more than the drug, itself) of all the problems associated with the drug trade.

Left: “Idol of Both,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 5, 1930; Right: “One Place to Get Tough,” Cleveland Press, November 13, 1936. Click on image above for to see larger version.
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Pablo Cáceres Corrales: “Narcotics Trafficking is Just Another Superstructure of Globalization”—Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

The intellectual, political, social, economic, environmental, and cultural ideas behind narcotics trafficking are front-loaded with Western constructs. This vision has often been imposed by force across the world and more particularly in developing countries directly tied to the geopolitics and international political economy of narcotrafficking. Dr. Pablo Cáceres Corrales, a Colombian scholar and expert in comparative law, is a refreshing voice—a revisionist who points the finger not at supply-and-demand debates but at the nature of the business of narcotics and its interdependence and interconnectivity with market globalization.

From his perspective, narcotrafficking is an essential part of the deregulated dynamic that allows the global capitalist system to navigate the thin line between formality and informality. Narcotics trafficking, he argues, is just one of the many superstructures allowing the global market system to operate on all cylinders. Narcotrafficking provides the ability to move money globally while at the same time laundering resources from the informal to the formal market.

As president of Colombia’s Superior Council of Judicature during the deadliest phase of the 1990s War on Drugs, Dr. Cáceres witnessed first-hand the intricacies of the international business world of narcotics trafficking. Understanding criminality and criminal organizations became an intellectual passion that led him to study its global history. During the pursuit of his doctoral degree, soon after retiring from the judicial branch, it became clear to him that the explanation for Colombia’s violent reality rested on the broader superstructures of globalization.

In his latest and thoroughly researched book, Las Formas Cambiantes de la Criminalidad [The Changing Forms of Criminality] (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2016) Cáceres introduces us to the broad magnitude and expansive tentacles of contemporary criminal organizations and their interconnectedness to the world-wide market system.

Pablo Cáceres Corrales
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Review of A Drunkard’s Defense

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

In A Drunkard’s Defense: Alcohol, Murder, and Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Massachusetts Press, 2021), Michele Rotunda has written a significant contribution about the history of alcohol consumption that will appeal to students of numerous fields, most notably scholars engaged in legal, medical, and cultural studies. Drawing from an impressive array of primary sources, Rotunda’s taut narrative, tracing the complex evolution of juridical precedents beginning in the colonial era that established the culpability of defendants accused of often gruesome crimes while intoxicated, is revelatory.

Rotunda’s extensive use of court documents, in particular, illuminates in exquisite detail the highly contested nature of judicial concepts like intention and responsibility, and how they considerably influenced verdicts in cases of alcohol-induced criminality. Did murder commissioned under the influence of alcohol constitute a deliberate, voluntary, and premeditated crime? If not, was the accused nevertheless at fault for willfully partaking in a vice that could disorder the mind and facilitate the perpetration of murder—an idea resting on deeply entrenched beliefs in American society about the immorality of drunken indulgence that knowingly caused mental derangement? Or, as physicians who were increasingly concerned with the physiology and psychology of intoxication proclaimed, was the impetus for murderous behavior exhibited by defendants vastly more complicated, requiring nuanced diagnoses that only practitioners’ scientific expertise and empiricism could provide?

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“Buried Alive in a Chemical Tomb”: The Story of the “Trip or Trap” Anti-Drug Playing Card Deck

Editor’s Note: From the Collections highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from publications and historical collections of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). In this post, Points Managing Editor and AIHP Head Archivist Greg Bond investigates the story behind the unique “Trip or Trap” anti-drug playing card deck from 1970.

Trip or Trap Decl Cards
Playing cards from the “Trip or Trap” deck. Images courtesy of the Brodeur Playing Card Collection, American Institute of the History of Pharmacy.

“This Trip or Trap Card Deck is an attempt to educate through facts and ridicule,” wrote public health advocate Dr. Wayman Rutherford Spence about his anti-drug set of novelty playing cards. Published in 1970 by his business, the Spenco Medical Company, the “Trip or Trap” deck was one of many quirky Spenco products that combined humor with pop culture ephemera to educate the public about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and other intoxicants.

The “Trip or Trap” deck adopted a prohibitionist attitude towards drugs, demonized the recreational use of intoxicating substances, and denied the legitimate medical or pharmaceutical use of drugs like cannabis. On an informational card accompanying the deck, Spence explained that “drug abuse has many faces.” Using a common gendered understanding of substance abuse, he wrote that “it is the lady starting her day with a diet pill for a pick-up and ending it with a sedative for sleep, [and] it is the man habitually unwinding with several drinks.” He also linked together “the chain smoker unable to quit… the twelve-year-old experimenting with glue sniffing… the teenager smoking pot… and the hard-core addict shooting heroin.”

Despite the substantial variations among these very different drug-use scenarios, he wrote that each case represented “a threatened person retreating from reality.” Concluding dramatically, Spence informed users of the “Trip or Track” deck that “drug abusers are not blissfully composed, rather they are often deadened, deprived of personality, and all but buried alive in a chemical tomb.”

The “Trip or Trap” playing card deck is one of several hundred pharmacy-themed playing cards in the Donald Brodeur Playing Card Collection at the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. This post is a short investigation into the story behind the “Trip or Trap” deck and its creator Wayman R. Spence, a now mostly forgotten drug warrior and public heath advocate.

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The Points Interview: Daniel J. Robinson

Points Interview Daniel RobinsonCard

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Daniel J. Robinson the author of Cigarette Nation: Business, Health, and Canadian Smokers, 1930–1975 from the Intoxicating Histories Series at McGill-Queen’s University Press edited by Virginia Berridge and Erika Dyck. Robinson is a historian and associate professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. He is currently researching historical tobacco use in Indigenous Canada and cigarette smoking and vaping among North American youths.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

For most of the last century, bars like this were filled with cigarette smokers. So, too, were restaurants, bowling alleys, physician waiting rooms, workplaces, and countless other public and private spaces. In the early 1950s, six in ten Canadians regularly smoked cigarettes—which were touted for enhancing sociability, psychological well-being, and productivity. By then, smoking had become a key marker of self-identity and social belonging. So, my book asks, how did these smokers react to news in the 1950s that cigarettes caused lung cancer? How did the tobacco industry respond? Some smokers, mostly older men, managed to quit, but the majority carried on, and lots of new smokers joined their ranks. For decades, smokers downplayed tobacco-cancer science and viewed their own mode of smoking as less risky. The industry promoted this thinking with a strategy of “Hope and Doubt.” “Hope” came in the form of health reassurance marketing, seen, for example, with light and mild brands which smokers believed were safer. The industry promoted “doubt” with a long-running disinformation campaign that attacked the medical science linking cigarettes to cancer and other serious diseases.

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My last 4/20 “Celebration”: Reflections on New York Legalization on a Bittersweet Tuesday Evening

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

Reefer Madness Talk Poster
Reefer Madness screening poster. Image courtesy of the author.

Two nights ago, I was in my car, headed to Utica College for a film screening and discussion. Earlier in the day, I had presented a conference paper for this past year’s cancelled American Historical Association meeting, which has been holding virtual online sessions over the past few months. I was thinking back to when Colorado passed its state referendum legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2014. At the time, I had wondered how I would celebrate if New York ever got around to legalizing marijuana. Since it was April 20, I imagined my first “legal” celebration of the so-called high holiday. I certainly didn’t imagine spending the entire day preparing for two public talks and abstaining.

I actually chuckled to myself for a bit. But then, immediately, my thoughts shifted as my phone rang and my brother informed me that the jury in the case of Derek Chauvin had come back with three guilty verdicts. When I had left the house, the jury was still in deliberations, and, so, it caught me a little off guard. Finally, some justice. But what sort of justice? Just then I pulled into the Utica College lot and checked in with Covid screener. The awareness hit me that I was about to lead a potentially whimsical screening of Reefer Madness, the absurd 1930s exploitation film, and discuss the arrival of legal weed in New York as part of the post-film discussion. I reckoned with the fact that this ridiculous film, along with all of the other absurdities in the war on drugs—even as we chuckle—has had really significant consequences that have been building for generations.

At that moment, I became certain about something I had felt for some time: legal weed has stopped being celebratory. I’ve never had to worry about my relationship with cannabis, even though I’ve had plenty of times when it could have caused serious problems. I’ve had no fewer than FOUR police interactions either while weed was in plain sight or with marijuana actively burning in my car. Yet, I have no marijuana-related infractions or arrests on my record, and I’ve never been mistreated by police. By contrast, when defending the police’s use of deadly force in the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, far too many people (including members of my own community) justified murder, in part, by highlighting Brown’s past relationship with marijuana.

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2021 Summer Kreminar—Opiates & Opioids

2021 Kreminar Social Card

Mark your calendars for the 2021 Edward Kremers Seminar in the History of Pharmacy & Drugs. The Summer 2021 “Kreminar” explores the theme of Opiates & Opioids and will feature six virtual seminars, presentations, and discussions by scholars and practitioners researching and writing about the history and the contemporary status of opiates, opioids, and addiction.

The Summer 2021 Kreminar will consist of streaming online Zoom presentations from 1:00–2:30 Eastern time (12:00–1:30 Central time) on six consecutive Thursdays in May or June. Kreminar presenters will be Dr. Benjamin Breen (May 13th), Dr. Diana S. Kim (May 20th), Dr. Daniel Skinner with Kerri Mongenel (May 27th), Dr. Nancy Campbell and Dr. David Herzberg (June 3rd), Dr. James Bradford (June 10th), and Maia Szalavitz (June 17th).

Participants are required to preregister for each presentation. Visit the 2021 Kreminar home page or see below for more information and registration links for all six Kreminars.

The hosts and sponsors of the 2021 Kreminar are:

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Make a Nomination for the 2021 George Urdang Medal!

Urdang Medal

Do you know a scholar, researcher, writer, or author who deserves recognition for a long and distinguished record of scholarship and achievements in the field of the history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals? Please nominate nominate them for the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy’s 2021 George Urdang Medal!

The George Urdang Medal recognizes the lifetime achievements of a person who, over a sustained period, has made important scholarly contributions to the field of the history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals. It is awarded without regard to citizenship or nationality, and AIHP will be accepting nominations until June 1, 2021.

Nominations must include at least one letter of nomination outlining the nominee’s scholarly contributions to the field. Nominations must also include the nominee’s curriculum vitae (or similar biographical information) and any other documents or supporting materials for the panel to consider. Please email nominations to aihp@aihp.org by the deadline.

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Drug (M)use: Drugs as a Means of Inspiration from 19th-Century Europe to 1960s America

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Timothy Cole Hale. This post is an abridged version of a paper that he will present as part of the panel, “A Century of American Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor,” at the 2021 virtual conference of the American Historical Association next Tuesday, April 20th, at 1:00 PM Eastern. To read the full paper, please visit his website.

Left Brain v. Right Brain
Left Brain vs. Right Brain. Image courtesy of Tumisu from Pixabay.

Opium and Nineteenth-Century Europe

In his 1995 book, Night, English poet and essayist Alfred Alvarez, traces the emergence of opium as a source of artistic inspiration to the Romantic Era. Since the positive effects of the drug include an immediate sense of euphoria and numbness soon followed by severe drowsiness, it is no coincidence that the narcotic became popular at a time when writers were obsessed with dreams and nightmares. These writers believed that the dreamworld provided new experiences and new places that they could incorporate into their work. [1]

Thomas De Quincey, perhaps the most outspoken opium addict of the era, first popularized the drug in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. De Quincey believed that inspiration could transcend from the dreamworld into reality and he wrote that, “If a man could thro’ Paradise in a Dream & have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his Soul had really been there, and found that flower in his hand when awoke—Aye!” [2]

In 1804, Friedrich Sertürner identified morphine as opium’s most active ingredient, and, with the arrival of the hypodermic syringe in the mid-nineteenth century, injecting morphine became the most popular ingestion method. It is impossible to quantify the popularity of opium—especially as soldiers began returning home from the Franco-Prussian War in the early 1870s—but the drug was especially prevalent among artists and writers of Bohemian Paris.

The Pleasures of Opium
Drawing of the “Pleasures of Opium” by illustrator Willy Pogany from 1908 edition of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Image courtesy of Internet Archive.

And opium became the perfect substance for rebelling against the bourgeoisie, as the drug causes users to become isolated and withdrawn in their thoughts, often making it physically impossible to contribute to conversations or productivity of any sort. Opium use provided a sense of camaraderie among Bohemian users who fashioned themselves as fighting against traditional literary, art, and social norms. But what may have begun as rebellion had a side effect: the dreamworld and deranged senses provided users with fodder for their art.

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The Misappropriation of Native/Indigenous Imagery in Pharmaceutical Advertising

Editor’s Note: From the Collections highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from publications and historical collections of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). Points Managing Editor and AIHP Head Archivist Greg Bond writes about a recent AIHP online historical exhibit.

Burroughs Wellcome exhibit 1893
Burroughs, Wellcome, and Company Exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago featuring several Native Americans. Henry Wellcome stands at the left wearing a hat. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

At the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, British multinational pharmaceutical firm Burroughs, Wellcome, and Company constructed an elaborate exhibit featuring the company’s drugs, medicines, and pharmaceutical products. Company co-founder Henry Wellcome was on site for the Exposition, and, during the event, he posed for a picture at his company’s exhibit along with several unnamed and unidentified Native Americans.

There might not seem to be an obvious connection between Indigenous North Americans and a European pharmaceutical company, but Wellcome strategically utilized the imagery—and the bodies—of Native Americans to exploit a longstanding Euro-American association between Indigenous peoples and the healing power of natural medicinal plants. By arranging for the presence of the uncredited Native Americans at his company’s exhibit space, Wellcome hoped that fair goers would thereby associate his company’s manufactured pharmaceuticals with the therapeutic healing power of traditional medicinal plants.

Indigenous peoples in North America have long used medicinal plants and botanicals to treat illnesses and diseases. White Americans and Europeans quickly adopted some native plants for therapeutic purposes after arriving in North America, and they also came to strongly associate medicinal plants and natural medicines with Indigenous cultures.

Drug companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers—like Burroughs, Wellcome—in turn, capitalized on these beliefs and co-opted Native and Indigenous imagery and iconography to market drugs and medicines containing plants and natural products. Particularly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, drug companies often relied on these misrepresentations and misappropriations of Native Americans and Indigenous cultures to brand their products as “natural” and safe for therapeutic purposes.

The American Institute of the History of pharmacy recently unveiled an online exhibit titled, “The Misappropriation of Native/Indigenous Imagery in Pharmaceutical Advertising” that explores some of this complicated history. Drawn mostly from the historical collections of AIHP and the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, the exhibit interrogates how drug companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers have misappropriated Native and Indigenous imagery, customs, and beliefs to market their products.

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