Teaching Points: “Hooked: Addiction in American Culture”

Editor’s Note: This week brings the second installment in Points’ back-to-school series on teaching the history of alcohol and drugs.  Last week, Joseph Gabriel discussed using a History of Science approach to the topic in a seminar for medical students and PhD students in History.  This week, historian Michelle McClellan presents a more…well, point-ed approach in a class designed for undergraduates in a residential college setting.  Next week, guest blogger Sarah Carnahan of Ohio State University’s School of Social Work and Department of Women’s Studies will talk about “Women and Addiction: A Feminist Perspective.”

As an American historian, I have taught courses on the history of addiction at several institutions over the years.  While their subject may seem unusual or controversial to some, these classes followed a structure that is pretty typical for a history curriculum, tracing different substances chronologically through the last few centuries of American history.  Now I am jointly appointed in the History Department and the Residential College at the University of Michigan.  The Residential College (RC) is a “living-learning community”– an undergraduate liberal arts college within the larger university.  Although any University of Michigan students can take classes there, the RC has a self-conscious identity as an interdisciplinary college which fosters a special kind of student creativity and initiative.  Last year I taught a course on addiction which I deliberately located in the RC so that I could challenge myself to think about addiction in new ways and, I hoped, use addiction as a subject that would demonstrate to students the value of an interdisciplinary approach.  The syllabus follows.  Tune in tomorrow to see whether I succeeded in this endeavor.

Hooked: Addiction in American Culture

Michelle McClellan Endorses Moderate Drinking

Drinking, smoking, gambling, drug taking.  Although they might seem to be modern inventions, the “bad habits” have a long history in the United States.  Ministers, lawyers, politicians, physicians, and plenty of other “experts” have argued that they should be the ones to define what makes the bad habits so bad and what should be done about them.  Americans (and others around the world) have variously taxed, regulated, medicalized, punished, and celebrated participation in the bad habits.  In this course, we will trace the various ways that addiction has been conceptualized: as a sin or moral weakness; as a lack of will power; as a medical condition; even as a “chronic relapsing brain disorder.”  Readings will include works of historical analysis, as well as scientific and social scientific studies.  We will also explore representations of addiction and of addicts in popular culture, such as memoirs, films, and television shows.  The class format will include discussion of readings as well as some brief lectures for background and context.  Assignments will include short written responses to readings; two analytical essays; and a take-home final exam.

David T. Courtwright, Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World
Jack London, John Barleycorn: Alcoholic Memoirs
Peter Mancall, Deadly Medicine: Indians & Alcohol in Early America
Carol Groneman, Nymphomania: A History
David Herzberg, Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac
Nicholas Rasmussen, On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine

Wednesday, January 5: Introduction to Course

Monday, January 10
Clancy W. Martin, “The Drunk’s Club: AA, the Cult That Cures,” Harper’s Magazine, January 2011 (CTools)
Benoit Denizet-Lewis, “An Anti-Addiction Pill?” The New York Times Magazine, June 25, 2006 (CTools)
Courtwright, Forces of Habit, Part I

Wednesday, January 12
Courtwright, Forces of Habit, Part II


FILM – TRAFFIC (2000) – see on your own in preparation for class discussion on Wednesday, January 19

Wednesday, January 19
Courtwright, Forces of Habit, Part III

Monday, January 24
Mancall, Deadly Medicine, Preface, Prologue, Ch. 1-4

Wednesday, January 26
Mancall, Deadly Medicine, Ch. 5-6

Monday, January 31
Mancall, Deadly Medicine, Ch. 7, Epilogue, Appendices

Wednesday, February 2
London, John Barleycorn, Ch. 1-28

Monday, February 7
London, John Barleycorn, Ch. 29 to end

Wednesday, February 9, 7:00 pm – FILM SHOWING and Discussion THE LOST WEEKEND (1945)

Monday, February 14
Allan Brandt, “The Cigarette, Risk, and American Culture,” Daedalus (1990)
Howard Markel, “Tracing the Cigarette’s Path from Sexy to Deadly,” New York Times (March 20, 2007) (CTools)

Wednesday, February 16
Bring a cigarette ad to class to analyze
Read one review or other article about Brandt’s book The Cigarette Century

Monday, February 21: The Science of Addiction – guest lecture by Pharmacologist

Wednesday, February 23: Tour of Pharmacology Lab

Monday, February 28: NO CLASS – SPRING BREAK

Wednesday, March 2: NO CLASS – SPRING BREAK

Monday, March 7:
Groneman, Nymphomania: A History, Acknowledgments, Introduction, Ch. 1-3

Wednesday, March 9:
Groneman, Nymphomania: A History, Ch. 4

Monday, March 14:
No class at regular time but finish Groneman (Ch. 5-6 and Afterword)

Monday, March 14, 7 pm – FILM SHOWING and Discussion

How They Became Desperate Housewives

Wednesday, March 16
Herzberg, Happy Pills in America, Introduction, Ch. 1

Monday, March 21
Herzberg, Happy Pills in America, Ch. 2-4

FILM – I’M DANCING AS FAST AS I CAN (1982) – See on your own in preparation for class discussion on Wednesday, March 23

Wednesday, March 23
Herzberg, Happy Pills in America, Ch. 5, Conclusion, Appendices

Monday, March 28
Maia Szalavitz, “Can Amphetamines Help Cure Cocaine Addiction?” Time (December 8, 2008) (CTools)
Rasmussen, On Speed, Acknowledgments, Introduction, Ch. 1-3

Wednesday, March 30
Rasmussen, On Speed, Ch. 4-5

Monday, April 4
Rasmussen, On Speed, Ch. 6-8, Conclusion

Wednesday, April 6
Rawson, “OxyContin Abuse: Who are the Users?” The American Journal of Psychiatry 164, no. 11 (2007) (CTools)
Jeffrey Kluger, “The New Drug Crisis: Addiction by Prescription” Time (September 13, 2010) (CTools)
Grau et al, “Illicit Use of Opioids: Is OxyContin a ‘Gateway Drug’?” American Journal on Addictions 16, no. 3 (2007): 166-73 (CTools)
“What Have We Learned from OxyContin” Journal of Pain & Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy 17, no. 1 (2003): 1-4 (CTools)

Monday, April 11
Internet Addiction (student led); Reading to be selected by students

Wednesday, April 13:
Student reports on Essay #2

Monday, April 18:
Student reports on Essay #2
Review for Take-Home Examination

2 thoughts on “Teaching Points: “Hooked: Addiction in American Culture””

  1. I’ve been a Chronic Pain Patient for 28 years; a large portion of that time has been spent on trying to survive, get a diagnosis and some sort of effective treatment. likely a simple operation in the beginning would have allowed me to work and have a life since I was 28 instead of losing almost everything I cared about, begin homeless because I was too damaged to work but “look too healthy,” and in general going through Hell almost the entire time due to demonization of people with pain, opiates, doctors who treat pain per the Medical Standard of Care instead of by the ever-changing DEA non-standards and per the propaganda of the addiction crowd. thanks to that, even a lot of doctors don’t understand the difference between people who have withdrawals when they stop taking a medication and and addicts. Nor do they understand how to use opiates – after they’re made necessary by lack of definitive treatment in the beginning – for chronic pain, or especially chronic intractable pain, the most deadly form of chronic pain.

    I’d love to see an accurate rendering of the history of addiction, for instance one that includes the fact that a lot of addicts function just fine in society when they have their “drug of choice,” without ever going overboard – people like Dr. Wm. Halsted, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dr. Freud and many, many others. from the syllabus, it doesn’t look hopeful.


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